How do your kids get to school, the library or their friends' houses? Walking and bicycling in Whatcom County is a great way to get around. We have good roads, trails and sidewalks.
Whatcom Smart Trips (WhatcomSmartTrips.org) and everybodyBIKE (everybodyBIKE.com) encourage and reward people for making "smart trips," whether walking, bicycling, sharing rides or riding the bus. They sponsor educational events and distribute maps and brochures for kids and parents. Local bike clubs lead rides for all skill levels.
If you start teaching your kids how to safely bicycle and walk for some of their daily trips while they are young, when they get to middle and high school they will be able to make active independent trips and you won't need to be a taxi driver.
IS YOUR CHILD READY?
If your child asks to be allowed to walk or bike to school, how should you answer? Each parent will answer this question differently depending on the unique abilities and readiness of each child. Each school district is required to develop and publish safe walking or bicycling routes to school and many schools can advise parents about which areas are in or out of a safe walking area.
As a parent, you will need to determine if your child is ready to take on the responsibility of walking or bicycling to school alone. This should be determined by how confident you are that you have taught your child the rules needed for safe walking or bicycling and if there are safe sidewalks or trails for your child to use.
To prepare them to walk or ride to school, you should go with them (and be there when they are out of school for the day) for the first several days until you are comfortable with the route they use and the responsibility they have shown. It's best if children under 12 always walk or bike with a buddy. Some parents collaborate to walk with and supervise a group of children, called a "walking school bus."
DEVELOP BIKING AWARENESS
As your children walk on the sidewalk, will they remember to stop at the intersections and look left, right, left to make sure the drivers will see them and cars will stop to allow them to safely cross the street? Will they remember to obey the "walk" and "don't walk" signs at crosswalks? If they are riding bicycles on the street, will they remember that they have to obey the stop signs and stop lights? Will they remember to follow the same rules as pedestrians if they are bicycling on sidewalks? These are all questions and skills that need to be developed.
Parents can help by practicing with young children to prepare them for the age when they'll be ready to go out on their own.
So, what do we do if there isn't a sidewalk or shoulder? If you and your child are going for a walk with no sidewalk, remember to walk facing traffic so you are able to see what the drivers are doing. As a parent you need to assess the situation and determine if the route is safe. There are many neighborhood streets that do not have sidewalks, however these residential areas have low speed limits and often low traffic volumes. These areas are often comfortable to walk in, compared to a county road with no shoulder and high speeds.
While riding your bicycle, you must ride on the right with traffic, obeying all of the traffic laws including stop signs and one-way streets. You also need to be very alert for the traffic around you as drivers frequently don't "see" bicycles that are sharing the road. Remember, children have a different viewpoint of traffic compared to adults. They don't have years of driving experience and their field of vision is different. Many kids think that because they can see a car, the driver can see them. As adults we know that isn't the case, so be sure to educate your kids that they shouldn't cross a street until the cars in both directions are fully stopped.
RULES OF THE ROAD
Following the rules of the road and being predictable is the No. 1 way to prevent crashes.
Bicycle helmets won't prevent crashes, but they can reduce injury if one occurs. A bicycle crash can happen at any time. Studies report that a properly fitted bicycle helmet may reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent.
The good news is that bicycling is safer and crash rates are lower in areas such as Whatcom County where lots of people bike.
Many people do not know how to properly fit a bicycle helmet, or what helmet will work best for them or their kids. For help, go to your local bike shop or check out the everybodyBIKE safety videos to learn about helmet fit, as well as other traffic safety tips at everybodybike.com/resources/videos.
Children walking to or from the school bus have special traffic rules to protect them.
Familiarize yourself and your children with the rules about when and where drivers must stop for school buses. The Washington State Patrol videos give an excellent overview at youtube.com/user/wspgovandmedia.
Essentially, all cars on a two-lane road (one lane in each direction) must stop when the school bus activates the flashing red lights and extends the stop arm. If the road has three or more lanes, there are additional rules.
This is just a short reminder about some of the issues we face in our everyday lives. Remember, there is a lot of reference material out there. Visit everybodyBIKE.com for classes, videos, activities, maps and brochures on bicycle or pedestrian safety. Bicycle Skills Courses conducted by everybodyBIKE teach about 3,000 younger riders in elementary schools each year.
David Wright, a retired Bellingham Police Department officer who serves on the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force, writes the Rules of the Road column for The Bellingham Herald. Mary Anderson is everybodyBIKE events coordinator for the Whatcom Council of Governments.
BICYCLE AND PEDESTRIAN SAFETY
--Ride predictably on the right side of the road in single file. Obey all traffic laws and signs.
--Helmets can reduce severity of crash injury.
--Keep pants and shoelaces out of moving parts.
--Wear bright clothing with reflectors.
--Use bike lanes when available. Bike lanes provide a space just for bicyclists so they can travel safely.
--Make eye contact to communicate with drivers.
--Before moving into the intersection, make sure all motorists see you.
--Let pedestrians cross the street safely before you go forward.
--In the rain of when it's dark, use a white front light and a red read reflector (these are required by law at night.)
--Add a red rear light and extra reflectors on pedals.
--Wear clothing with reflectors on them.
--Be conspicuous: Ride where you'll be seen by motorists.