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Educating Student Bicyclists and Pedestrians

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Palo Alto has a history as a bicycle friendly town. Compared to the rest of Santa Clara County, which has a bicycle mode share of 2.3%, the City of Palo Alto is closer to 5%. In addition to having flat terrain and many bicycle facilities, some form of bicycle education has been offered in the Palo Alto Unified School District since the 1960s. Prior to 1991, the Palo Alto Police Department conducted forty-five minutes of bicycle safety training using a film and discussion with students in the third grade.

In 1991, a second middle school was reopened in Palo Alto and sixth graders were transferred from the elementary schools into the middle schools. With two schools to serve both the north and south part of town, busing was eliminated. There was discussion of eliminating the third grade bicycle education program based on budget cutbacks. Due to rising concerns of school commute safety, the third grade program was retained and expanded and an additional program for sixth graders was piloted working now with the Fire Department.

In 1992, a program for the fifth grade was put into place. The fifth grade program includes an in-classroom video of on-street cycling and a slide or video presentation of locations around the middle school that the students will encounter the following fall. The sixth grade program is conducted at an assembly in the middle school and is a refresher of the fifth grade program including local situations and a discussion bout left turns.

The third grade program was expanded in 1993 to a three-lesson program modeled on the national curriculum, Basics of Bicycling, developed by the Bicycle Federation of America's seven-lesson format. The district modified the program to include an in-classroom video segment and a combined on-bicycle curriculum including:

  • Controlled riding right turn and stop
  • Scanning and moving left
  • Driveway yielding
  • Intersection, yielding and eye contact
  • Checking helmet fit

The City of Palo Alto also offers a citation diversion program that includes bicycle education for juveniles that are cited for violating traffic laws. The diversion program is conduced by the Palo Alto Fire Department and courses are scheduled regularly.

In 2000, the school district and the City of Palo Alto jointly funded a coordinator position for the bicycle education curriculum, as well as a pedestrian curriculum for kindergarten through third grade. Safe Moves was hired to teach the module, which includes a discussion on helmet use as well as basics such as looking both ways, crossing with an adult, safely crossing driveways and railroad crossing safety.

In May of 2001, the City of Palo Alto began offering adult bicycle education courses called Street Skills for Cyclists that cover the basics of bicycling. Since 2001, the City has educated over 300 adults through Street Skills and close to 100 adults chose to take a second day of instruction, including on-bike maneuvers and training that allowed them to complete the League of American Bicyclists Road I Bike Ed course. The program was so successful that other communities throughout the Bay Area have replicated it and currently courses are being conducted in Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Alameda and San Mateo counties as well as Santa Clara County. Course listings are featured on the new web site.

In 2003, Palo Alto was designated a Bicycle Friendly Community at the Gold Level (only 3 other communities have earned the Gold designation: Boulder, CO, Corvallis, OR, and Portland, OR). A contributing factor to the Gold designation was the comprehensive bicycle education programming that Palo Alto offers for all age groups. In addition to a temperate climate, level grades, traditional town grid with tree lines streets the City of Palo Alto has included bicycle transportation into all transportation planning for several decades. The education programs compliment the facilities and help to foster a bicycling culture in the community.

In 2004, Palo Alto partnered with local League of American Bicyclists instructors to offer Kids 1 bike education classes for parents and Kids 2 classes for parents and students through the City Recreation Department's Enjoy catalogue of classes and programs. In addition, the City partnered with the Palo Alto Adult School to offer the Street Skills for Cyclists course for adult cyclists. Both partnerships have worked well and education programs will continue to be offered through these two community venues.