Teaching Traffic Skills to Teens

Mighk Wilson explains how to cross the diagonal railroad tracks on Orange Avenue.

Saturday, Mighk and I taught an abbreviated Smart Cycling class to a group of teens at the Orlando Rec Center. It was great fun! I enjoyed their brilliant bike handling in the parking lot drills and their lack of hesitation to adopt good riding practices. Kids haven’t been indoctrinated into “staying out of the way,” so you don’t have to keep after them about staying away from parked cars or the curb.

People who haven’t been exposed to downtown cycling would be astounded by how easy and pleasant is to ride there. It made me think about how cool it would be if we could bring all of our youth up on safe cycling practices and the ease of using a bike for transportation. Imagine if they saw a bicycle as a viable option to the huge expense of owning and insuring a car.

These young people will be helping to lead the Parramore Kidz Zone ride on May 2. The ride begins at 9 AM, volunteer bike repair begins at 8 AM, at Jackson Community Center at the corner of Westmoreland Ave. and Carter St. The starting group will pick up more kids at four more spots along the route.

If you would like to volunteer as a ride leader for the ride, please contact Mighk Wilson at 407-481-5672, ext. 318. Let him know if you have a preference for the type of “job” you’d like:

Ride Mentors: the more the merrier. We need plenty of experienced adult cyclists to mix with the kids, demonstrate good cycling behavior, share their years of cycling wisdom, and just encourage the kids and have a good time.

Route Markers: We need two teams of two to mark the routes the day before and make sure all’s in place the morning of. There will be three routes: the shorter 4-mile little kids route, a longer 7-mile big kids route, and longer 15- to 20-mile route for the more athletic kids.

Wrenches: Experienced mechanics are needed to ensure the kids (and parents!) bikes are safe and ready to ride. We are also trying to give away to the kids some old bikes confiscated by Orlando Police and Lynx; those bikes will need some work ahead of time so they can be ready the day-of.

Helmet Fitters: Those with experience on fitting helmets are needed to ensure the kids have them on correctly.

This is a fun event. I’ve participated the last two years with the BOBbies. Members of the Florida Freewheelers and Seminole Cyclists volunteer, as well as commuters, instructors and cycling advocates. Come join us!

10 replies
  1. Jack
    Jack says:

    True, our youth should be properly trained to ride in various environments. Having raised four sons on cycling in inner cities like Chicago, it works. My two youngest ride their bikes and must negotiate through large red light intersections on their daily rides to grade and middle school. They notice “bad road behavior” better than most adult drivers.

    Please do more of this and I hope to hear about your teaching experiences. It pays, one of my older sons who lives in Texas has remained car-free for 12 years and cycles daily, he’s hooked.

  2. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    A friend whose kids have grown up cycling with him and his wife told me a couple brief stories illustrating how well kids can learn. When his daughter was about twelve she started biking to school with some friends, but quickly gave it up, complaining to her dad, “Those kids have no street-sense.”

    More recently they took a trip to Europe, and he told of how comfortable and impressed he was watching her navigate the bikeway-free streets on her own.

    How ’bout we start celebrating excellence in cycling?

  3. MikeOnBike
    MikeOnBike says:

    “When his daughter was about twelve she started biking to school with some friends, but quickly gave it up, complaining to her dad, “Those kids have no street-sense.””

    My son had pretty much the same reaction when he started biking to junior high.

  4. Jack
    Jack says:

    Yesterday in my 12-year old son’s health class, the teacher asked how everyone got to school. Out of 22 students: 12 by car, 6 by school bus, 3 walked and my son was the only one who cycled. Needless to say the bike rack is not well positioned and not covered from thunder storms which we get often in spring months.

    This is the third straight generation that has little empathy for cyclists or pedestrians. Then we wonder how and why our streets are less than hospitable to non-drivers?

    My sons have been cycling to school since first grade and it does take much time and patience to teach needed road skills. I have also taken other 11-12 year olds cycling because their parents represented that “they were skilled”. Oh my how little parents know how poorly skilled they are and are a serious danger to themselves. That is why I would like to hear more about the skills you chosen to teach. We need to kick start CHANGE with our youth instead of being reliant on our elected officials.

    I’m all for Safe Routes to School and it’s too bad the VCs in control in many of our communities are against the necessary infrastructure to help a younger group to appreciate the life of independence and freedom cycling offers. Showing my sons that they can go where they want when they want is an eye opening experience and they learn not to be chauffeured.

  5. Keri
    Keri says:

    Jack, It’s awesome that you’ve taught your kids to ride and be traffic savvy! It’s sad that kids and adults today are so ignorant of safe cycling practices. It certainly creates a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

    I’m curious, though, who are the VCs that are standing in the way of necessary infrastructure? Your VC characterization seems a bit of a strawman.

    Most of the vehicular cycling advocates I know (including myself) oppose symbolic, ridiculous or dangerous infrastructure, not the kind which truly helps cyclists (including kids) get around.

    Here’s an example of a vehicular cyclist’s suggestion for good solutions (I think you have posted this before, as well):
    Suburban sprawl as it affects bicyclists

    Here’s a great example of a useful trail:
    Tuscawilla: the Seminole trail connects to Winter Springs High, Layer Elementary, Central Winds Park, Winter Springs Town Center. It also provides easy access to Oviedo High and Downtown Oviedo.

    On a smaller scale, I love these little connector trails.

    Here’s what I don’t like:
    Baldwin Park: Call me crazy, but I think it’s criminally stupid to be teaching our kids (and adults) to ride in the door zone. In our cycling-ignorant culture, people just don’t know any better and that paint reinforces a behavior that may get them killed. The worst part is, it is totally symbolic. It only exists so local officials can pat themselves on the back for “encouraging cycling” … on a 25mph residential road that is already just fine for cycling.

    Is it standing in the way of progress to oppose this?

    Here’s another thing that doesn’t help our kids. Reckless endangerment: striping lines on busy roads. Even done right, all they do is make cycling on those roads more complicated. Not to mention, they lure people onto the road who have no idea what the danger areas are. Would you let your kids ride there?

    Here’s an example of a completely silly waste of money. This is a convoluted sidepath on a 25mph residential street. An 8-year-old can ride on that street. All stuff like this does is reinforce that cyclists belong on sidewalks. Introducing people to cycling with this kind of infrastructure stunts their growth as cyclists and creates a limited perception of the usefulness of bicycles.

    Jack, let’s work together. I think we want the same thing. I’ll be happy to get together with you and show you what we teach. You would probably be a candidate to become an League Cycling Instructor yourself.

  6. Wayne Pein
    Wayne Pein says:

    Jack wrote:

    “Then we wonder how and why our streets are less than hospitable to non-drivers?”

    Isn’t it people who are hospitable or not hospitable?

    “I’m all for Safe Routes to School and it’s too bad the VCs in control in many of our communities are against the necessary infrastructure to help a younger group to appreciate the life of independence and freedom cycling offers.”

    You mean the life of bike lane dependence? Isn’t it better to be able to bicycle anywhere irrespective of whether there is an allegedly “safe” bicycle facility?


  7. John Schubert
    John Schubert says:


    It’s frustrating to me to hear vehicular cycling (and its advocates) labeled as “obstructionist.” What we offer is the BEST in safety practices. What we offer is EASY to learn (if one wants to do the learning). What we offer does NOT require billions in pork-barrel spending.

    All of this is based on a foundation of knowledge of what causes accidents, what makes riding in populated areas easy, low-stress and pleasant, what skills riders need to know and how to teach them.

    I’ve been working in bicycle accident reconstruction for 28 years, and through this work have studied, at a very granular level, the actual causes of accidents.

    My conclusions?

    — There is no facility that can make a clueless rider safe. Rider training is part of the package.

    — Rider training/education is good and getting better all the time, as we refine approaches that are appealing and easily understood.

    — Much of the “infrastructure” that is currently popular actually exacerbates known accident causes. I’m morally outraged by this, and I wish more other people were too.

    — In some areas (Keri tells me that Orlando is one), there is a significant problem with the attitudes of other road users. And Keri is addressing that with her civility initiative.

    John Schubert

  8. Jack
    Jack says:

    To explain how this happens would take volumes. Yes VCs in my community refuse to stand up when a pedestrian bridge used by cyclists and pedestrians is removed. Existing roads are re-stripped to allow a center lane for cars while the wide shoulders used by cyclists are remove, the VCs remain silent. Roads are widen, speed limits increased, the VCs remain silent. One example of the result?:A highway is expanded in our neighborhood and a once one-mile round trip on foot (or bike) to local Whole Foods becomes a two-mile round trip. Stores that are 1000 feet away become a 3.6 miles roundtrip.

    In each situation, VCs in control are contacted but remain silent. For my young sons, riding their bikes on eight lane roads is OK. There is NO BIKE LANE dependence in our world and for another cyclist to suggest such is absurd, at best. In my community there is not one mile of bike paths or bike lanes unless you commute in circles in a public park. To automatically accuse that a cyclist is “facility dependent” is quite silly.

    John & Keri, I’ll contact you separately.

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