Bicycle Riding in Schools

Above is a photo from NYC in June of 1954. Police officers supervise a “bicycle safety program” on a painted figure-8 track. Now, I’m not so sure how often anyone on a bicycle will encounter a figure-8 (unless of course you’re racing on the Human Powered Rollercoaster) but I do remember a similar program at my elementary school involving painted roadways with stop signs, intersections, crosswalks and a working traffic light.

From what I remember these “bicycle rodeos” were hosted by the local police and we probably received a colouring book that further emphasized the rules of the road. The majority of my elementary school classmates all biked to school until at least grade 6. After that it was no longer “cool.”

Unfortunately, no such program for driving or bicycling was a part of my high school education. I did pay Young Drivers about $800 dollars for driving classes, which were useful, but from what I remember pedestrians and bicyclists were referred to mostly as unpredictable nuisances.

Now, before the comments on this post are flooded with “bicyclists don’t know the rules” rants, let me state that these group lessons are important not for teaching the rules but for getting people on bicycles to act as a group. Everyone knows what a stop sign means. In a car we’re forced to act mostly social not because a car makes us think in a group (actually quite the opposite) but because infrastructure forces us to act as a group. Narrow roads don’t allow for much “freedom” in a car and if you’re in a line of vehicles all stopped at a red you have no choice but to stop as well. Whereas on a bicycle we can act “freer.” And when there are only a few other bicycle riders on the road the temptation and the possibility of breaking the rules are both available.

I personally witness this change in behaviour a lot. When I’m with a group of bicyclists on one of Toronto’s busier routes, behaviour becomes more normalized. The group waits at lights, stops for stop signs and crosswalks and doesn’t pass open streetcar doors. However, when the group dwindles down to just two or three people I’m more likely to see someone defy the laws.

Do you remember “bicycle rodeos” or “safety” classes like these? Do they still exist?


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