Building a Youth Cycling Culture in the CRD

The Capital Regional District (CRD) successfully completed a youth cycling education program for Grade 7 students, instilling confidence and knowledge in the next generation of cyclists.

In 2005, the Board of the Capital Regional District (CRD) adopted Travel Choices: A Long-Term Transportation Strategy for the Capital Region. Among its many policy directions, the Strategy sets the goal of increasing total cycling trips from the current 2% of daily travel demand to 5% of daily travel demand by 2026.

A children’s bicycle education program is an effective means of addressing a local government’s or region’s carbon footprint. In the CRD 65% of all carbon emissions are a result of transportation, similar to other regions in BC. Every day 107,000 of all trips taken in the CRD (a total of 1.2 million) are school-based and approximately half of these trips are made by car. Due to various factors over the past 20 years, fewer children are within a short walking distance of school (only 19% - 19,000 - of these trips are considered the appropriate walking distance of 1.6km or less). These figures demonstrate the unrealized potential for more school-based cycle trips.

However, to realize this potential for more cycle trips further capacity building is required. Integrating cycling education into standard curriculum is an effective strategy to encourage a strong cycling culture in younger generations.

A study of bicycle injuries in BC among children/youth (0-19 years of age) throughout the 1990s demonstrated that the loss of control and falls were the most common cause of accidents. Traffic accidents involving automobiles increased with age, as youth began to cycle on streets and public areas. Basic cycling skills such as riding in a straight line and knowledge of road rules are necessary to eliminate such bicycle related injuries, and in turn promote a confident and competent cycling culture.

This increase would mean a total of 80,000 cycle trips daily, compared to the current 29,000. Suggestions to realize this goal included "developing regional programs to enhance safety and awareness of cycling in the CRD through education, enforcement, and standardized practices for designing and maintaining bicycle routes". The CRD-led Kids CAN Bike Pilot Project is a ramification of these policy guidelines.

Engagement and Governance

Effective community collaboration was one of the most important resources in developing and administering the CRD-led pilot project. Based on the Kids CAN-Bike programs, a Victoria-specific curriculum was developed for the project. Geared towards youth aged 10-12, the curriculum provided students a total of 8 hours of both in-class and on-road training over the course of four weeks.

The pilot program was a collaborative effort between the CRD, Bike to Work Victoria (BTWV), Canadian Cycling Association, Arbutus Global Middle School in Victoria (School District 61), the Board of Education, and parents of the participating students. Based on a seed grant from the Community Connections Program (administered by the Ministry of Education and UBCM), BTWV applied their extensive expertise in cycling education to develop the Victoria-specific curriculum.

Teachers at the middle school modified their work plans to allow all participating students to attend the in-class sessions during regular school hours. Prior to the on-road portion, students were given a checklist to bring home and use to determine if their bikes were ready for road-cycling.

Implementation

Work on the project began in April 2009, with the development of the curriculum. The program was delivered in November and May 2009. The course material is now "shelf ready" for expansion into the regions’ other middle schools, which will shorten the timeframe of future cycling education projects.

To monitor the project surveys were completed before and after the course. In addition to tracking participant satisfaction, these surveys tracked the development of cycling confidence and safety (such as likelihood of riding on the road rather than the sidewalk), as well as on-road knowledge (primarily basic road rules and procedures).

Barriers and Breakthroughs 

Similar cycling education programs have been criticized as being ineffectual, due to short program length and no on-road training. For instance, a study conducted of a Toronto cycling education program for Grade 4 students found it to be unsuccessful in improving safe cycling behaviour, knowledge, and attitudes among the grade 4 children.

The program was delivered in a school yard over the course of 90 minutes, in which students moved through 6 stations that each focused on a different aspect of safe cycling (i.e. safety equipment, riding in a straight line, etc.). The short duration of the training was an impediment to fully instilling the cycling knowledge and skills in the youth. Additionally, delivering the training solely in the school yard did not prepare youth to ride safely on road, as riding in a straight line in a car-free environment is less demanding than riding in a straight line on-road.

Discomfort and fear of on-road riding has been identified as an important barrier to developing as stronger cycling culture in North America. Programs that do not provide youth with an opportunity for safe on-road training will likely be unable to reverse the common fear and discomfort towards on-road cycling, as they do not connect the in-class teachings with actual practice.

The program administered by the CRD can be seen as a successful model in that the overall length was adequate and half of the training was delivered on-road. The success of the on-road portion can be attributed to the safe conditions created by the instructors. Groups of 6 students were led through the on-road training by a Lead Instructor and an Assistant Instructor. In the Report to Funders, the CRD reported that the on-road portion received higher satisfaction rates than the in-class portion.

However, despite the well constructed and organized program, a challenge was faced in ensuring that all students had adequate equipment for participation. A Bike Mechanic was present on the first day of training to inspect the student’s bicycles and safety gear and provide any required tune-ups. However, not all students had access to bicycles that were road-ready, and thus had to share with other students. When expanding the program into other schools, ensuring access to safe and road-ready bicycles may be a significant challenge. This challenge may be surmounted by establishing a supply of bicycles to be loaned to students without adequate bicycles during training.

Results

Overall, the pilot project, which trained a total of 125 Grade 7 students, was rated as successful, based on the surveys administered during the training and teacher/administrator feedback. The overall budget for the project totalled $15,825, based on the seed grant and contributions from other project partners. Yet, a great deal of volunteer work was contributed by all project partners. All of this front end work has now set the stage for the expansion into other schools. Course materials are ‘shelf ready’.

As these programs become more commonly integrated into regular school curriculum we can look forward to a younger generation of confident and knowledgeable cyclists who use make cycle trips part of their daily lives ultimately reducing vehicles on the road.

Other Examples: 

Critical Policies

Travel Choices: A Long-Term Transportation Strategy for the Capital Region – main policy document outlining strategy for promoting more cycle trips.

Community type: