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Transportation Division
Transportation Division

Chapter 5 Bicycle Education and Safety 


Unfortunately, too many bicyclists in the United States lack the basic skills or knowledge to safely ride a bicycle in traffic. Many people are, quite simply, afraid of bicycling on streets. Bicycle education programs are designed to increase bicycle safety by improving the ability to ride with traffic as well as heighten motorist awareness. The difficulties faced in helping people develop this skill and knowledge stems from the wide range of age groups that require this training and the necessity to tailor the programs to each one. Additional challenges to developing education programs are the different languages spoken and the different cultural backgrounds found in Berkeley. Bicycle education programs should be directed at the following groups: 

  • Child Bicyclists 
  • Adult Bicyclists 
  • Motorists 
  • Law Enforcement Officials 

Young children should be taught the basic rules of the road in conjunction with hands-on bicycling instruction. Programs directed at children are best handled by the schools or day care centers, but they are often compromised by the demands of school curriculum and the capability of instructors. Adult cyclists benefit most from a program designed to impart the responsibilities of bicycle riding, demonstrate how to safely share the road with motor vehicle traffic, and provide tips on the benefits and methods of bicycle commuting. However, programs aimed at adults typically only reach those that are interested in learning about bicycling. Motorist-oriented programs generally reach their intended audience at specific points, i.e. during driver’s training courses, driver’s licensing exams and traffic school courses for violators.

Types and Targets of Education Programs

In general, bicycle education programs can be described as those that develop awareness and provide information, such as posters, brochures and videos; and those that change behavior and/or develop skills, such as programs with on-bike instruction. Programs can take many forms including hands-on riding instruction for adults and children, curriculum for adults who supervise children (i.e. teachers, day care persons), public awareness programs aimed at the whole community, instruction for motorists, law enforcement and community events. Key to any bicycle education program is engaging the target audience; in other words, getting people to participate. Bicycle promotion programs, discussed in Chapter 6, are intended to increase the community’s awareness of the benefits of bicycling and can also serve to improve safety for bicyclists.

As previously mentioned, bicycle education programs can take many forms and can be directed at (1) child bicyclists; (2) adult bicyclists; (3) motorists; (4) law enforcement officials; or (5) the community at-large. Children are at the greatest risk for injury due to bicycle-related collisions. Therefore, children tend to receive the most attention with bicycle education strategies to the exclusion of adults, motorists and law enforcement officials. The following sections include discussions of the characteristics of the bicycle education programs most suitable for each group listed above.

Existing Bicycle Education Programs in Berkeley

Several bicycle and pedestrian education programs have been developed in Berkeley recently in response to the City’s high rate of traffic collisions involving bicyclists and pedestrians. (Based upon research using Statewide Traffic Record System (SWITRS) for City of Berkeley grant application to Office of Traffic Safety, 1996.) These data reveal that, in Berkeley, pedestrian fatal and injury collisions account for 15.0 percent of all fatal and injury collisions. The statewide average is 10.1 percent. Bicycle-involved fatal and injury collisions account for 19.5 percent of all fatal and injury collisions compared to the statewide average of 8.3 percent. Of the 39 cities in California with populations equal to Berkeley, Berkeley ranks first for both the proportion of pedestrian and bicycle collisions. Several reasons may account for this high rate. They are: 

  1. Large numbers of people bicycling and walking in Berkeley; 
  2. Dense urban environment of Berkeley; 
  3. High percentage of young adults attending UC Berkeley who are at a prime age for risk taking; 
  4. High percentage of transient student population who are unfamiliar with Berkeley; 
  5. Ignorance of safe bicycling and walking practices perhaps due to the fact that many bicyclists and pedestrians in Berkeley do not own or drive cars; and 
  6. Streets were not designed to accommodate current volumes of automobile, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. 

The current bicycle education programs coordinated by the City of Berkeley Health and Human Services (HHS) Department are directed at children and adults; bicyclists and motorists. They have been funded through grants from the California Office of Traffic Safety. A brief description of these programs is included in the next paragraphs.

"Safe Ways to Schools Program" - A pilot bicycle safety program, under the "Safe Ways to Schools Program," is being conducted at Martin Luther King Junior Middle School in conjunction with the Alameda County Office of Education. This program includes after school rides, instruction on bicycle maintenance and bicycle derbies. In addition, a nine-session curriculum on traffic safety has been taught to sixth graders.

The "Walk and Wheels Traffic Safety Program" is directed primarily at adults and includes the following strategies: 

  • Low cost helmet program and bicycle safety education with community groups and at events; 
  • Thirteen-minute bike safety video, "Beyond the Bike Lane," which is used for workshops and has been broadcast on Channel 25, Berkeley’s public access television station; 
  • Bike and traffic safety banners to be placed in high collision areas reading "Slow Down," "Wear a Helmet," "Ride with the flow of traffic," "Obey Traffic Laws," "Watch for Cyclists," and "Be Alert;" and 
  • Media campaign. 

Helmet Distribution Programs - The Health and Human Services Department has developed two programs to increase helmet usage among children. 

  • The Citation Alternative Program, in conjunction with the Berkeley Police Department, allows children who have been cited for not wearing a helmet the opportunity to attend a one-hour cyclist traffic school. At the end of the session they receive a free, fitted helmet. 
  • A monthly bike safety workshop is targeted at low-income families. At the end of the one-hour program, the children receive a free, fitted helmet. 

Approximately 3,000 helmets have been distributed since 1995 through the various HHS bike safety programs.

Programs for Child Bicyclists


Most bicycle safety efforts target elementary school-aged children and their parents. Programs for parents of beginning bicyclists, between the ages of five and eight, focus on the role the parent plays in selecting the proper size and type of equipment, in supervising their child's use of that equipment, and in teaching the basic mechanical skills needed to start, balance, steer, and stop a bicycle. Parents may be reached through parent-teacher associations and children through programs sponsored by the schools, day care centers, summer camps and boys and girls clubs.

Children pose a special safety problem as they learn to ride bicycles. Learning to ride by the rules, look for traffic and use hand signals are not second nature - these skills must be taught. Bicycle education programs should start early as children learn to ride and be modified as the years go by to focus on the needs of the particular age group. There is a critical juncture when children migrate from riding on the sidewalk to riding on the street. Although this age varies from child to child, children between the ages of nine and ten are generally old enough to learn street cycling skills. They can learn how to enter and exit the roadway; scan ahead, behind and to the side while riding straight; and communicate and cooperate with other road users and pedestrians.

One proposal is that the current one-shot method of Driver's Education provided at some high schools be replaced with a curriculum that spans most of their primary and secondary school career. (Professor William Moritz at the University of Washington - per a phone conversation, October 29, 1996.) Four major areas of instruction would be taught at four stages of the students' development. In grades K-3, students would learn basic pedestrian skills, stranger danger, crossing residential streets, using pedestrian push buttons, taking a school bus, etc. Older students in Grades 4 to 5 are ready to learn bike safety and handling skills, including bike operation on streets with supervised bike rides on neighborhood streets. (These programs for K-5 graders are being conducted in many states including Hawaii, Montana, Florida, and North Carolina.) Later, in Grades 7-9, they would learn basic mobility skills of how to get around town including using transit for utilitarian and recreational trips (e.g., how to read a bus schedule, execute a transfer, take rapid transit), and more on safe bicycling practices. By the time students reach Grade 10, they will have already become transit-independent and would be able to go places without having to be driven by someone. In tenth grade, students would take driver's education, as many do now. But driver's education would include focused instruction on how motorists should interact with pedestrians and bicyclists, how to predict their movements, pass safely, learn when different modes have the right-of-way, etc.


Bicycle Helmets - Helmet distribution programs and the Citation Alternative Program, described above, should be continued to encourage the purchase and use of bicycle helmets. Bicyclists under the age of 18 are required by state law to wear a properly fitted and fastened bicycle helmet. Before 1994 when this law went into effect, over 25% of bicycle collisions involved head injuries. Of these, more than one-half were life threatening.

Bicycle Education Programs - Bicycle education programs should be developed for several age groups and should include the below elements. The City should work with the Berkeley Unified School District to incorporate these programs into school curriculums.

Kindergarten through Third Grade - Pedestrian and bicycling safety education/safety training. Effective Cycling curriculum (a new course developed by the League of American Bicyclists for child bicyclists) or other classroom/on-bike/transportation safety program.

Fourth and Fifth Grades - Basics of Bicycling curriculum (developed by Bicycle Federation of America) or other classroom/on-bike program to teach bike-handling skills.

Middle School and High School - Can cover commuting as well as recreational uses, touring, racing; conducted by volunteer cycling advocates. High School - include bicycle education as part of driver’s training courses.

In addition, the following selection of education strategies are intended as a representative cross-section of the programs that have been developed in communities around the country to target the special needs of various age groups. Some are more suitable for the younger bicyclists (K-6) and others are more effective for junior high, high school and university students. 

  • Develop programs with local bike shops to distribute bicycle helmet safety information and reduced price coupons for helmet purchase and other safety gear, such as lights. 
  • Incorporate bicycle education programs into day camp and day care programs. 
  • Conduct "bicycle rodeos." 
  • Develop a program of free bicycle safety checks at schools, fairs, community events, or other events where bicyclists congregate. Sometimes a local business can be persuaded to sponsor an event. 

Youth Bicycle Programs - There are many programs available for linking our youth with bicycles. These programs, usually organized by non-profit organizations, or sometimes Police Departments, have been very successful in involving teenagers and giving them something constructive to do with their time. While teaching bicycle safety and proper riding practices, these programs have had favorable results in keeping kids away from drugs, gangs and crime while instilling in them a sense of purpose and worth. Some of the highlights of these programs are: 

  • After school bicycle maintenance and repair. 
  • Recycle a bike program - kids fix up bikes and keep them. 
  • Earn-a-bike program through community service. 
  • Drop-In repair classes-also good for adult bicyclists. 
  • Bicycle trips for kids programs. 

Programs for Adult Bicyclists


There are few materials and programs that focus on the adult rider. Most adult bicyclists have not had any formal bicycle education in childhood outside of learning the basic mechanical skills. At the same time, there are misconceptions, myths and outdated advice that further challenge adult bicyclists' safety. For instance, some believe a bicyclist should ride facing traffic, and it is still common to see a bicyclist at night not using the required lights and reflectors. Bicycle education programs developed for the adult cyclist need to educate cyclists about bicyclists’ rights and responsibilities on the road, about techniques for sharing the road with motorists and about secure bike locking techniques. Adults should also be educated about pedestrian rights and the need to be aware of people with mobility, hearing, and/or vision impairments.


  • Conduct a public awareness campaign focused on responsible road behavior and directed to bicyclists and motorists alike. Make use of public service space from newspapers, television, radio, bus advertising, posters and flyers mailed in utility bills. 
  • Promotional events such as Bike to Work Day enhance bicycle education. 
  • Community events such as charity bike rides, costume rides, bike fairs and bicycle rodeos are useful in attracting adults and families in more recreational surroundings. Include bicycle safety checks and helmet giveaways as part of these rides. 
  • Bicycle commuting programs sponsored by employers, such as those suggested in Chapter 6, can be successful in educating adult bicyclists and creating new bicycle commuters. 
  • Educate parent groups and adult groups that supervise children, like PTAs, day care centers, and youth camp operators, on safe bicycling practices. 
  • Conduct a public awareness campaign emphasizing the individual and community benefits of using a bicycle for daily trips. As part of this campaign have a city-wide contest for number of miles bicycled, oldest bicyclist, farthest commuter, etc. 
  • Since most adult cyclists are also motorists, they can also be reached through programs discussed in the next section. 
  • Work with bicycle shops to provide incentives for adults to purchase helmets and safety gear, such as lights. 
  • Develop informational materials and programs specifically addressing the cycling needs of seniors, such as a tricycle program. 
  • The City should work with and encourage U.C. Berkeley to educate students about proper, effective cycling in Berkeley. Also, the University could introduce effective cycling as a physical education course (similar to racquetball, tennis, etc.), and distribute city-specific bike safety pamphlets to incoming/returning students as part of registration packets. 
  • The adult-targeted Effective Cycling course by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) would serve the public need for cycling education and can be offered at bike shops and community centers. 

Programs for Motorists


Motorists are probably the most difficult group to reach with bicycle education. Existing motorist-oriented programs typically reach their intended audience only at specific points. Some amount of bicycle education is distributed during driver education courses, driver licensing exams and traffic schools for violators. While these methods can be improved upon, for most motorists, these events will only occur once every several years. Additionally, programs targeted to children can benefit motorists as children bring home information to their families.


  • Public awareness campaigns are most useful for educating the motorist on how to safely share the road with bicyclists and overall awareness of bicyclists’ rights and responsibilities. Media campaigns including bumper stickers and banners, could be developed. Community events and family activities can be useful in raising awareness of bicycle/motorist safety. Parents who attend bicycle education events with their children may learn something themselves about bicycle/motorist safety. 
  • Make use of public service space from newspapers, television, radio, bus advertising, posters and flyers mailed in utility bills. The City should consider including an educational flyer in its mailings to residents, particularly for parking permits. 
  • Incorporate "sharing the road" training into driver’s education programs. 
  • Signage on roadways, such as "Share the road" signs and bicycle stencils on the street, both of which are proposed for Class 2.5 bikeways, are also an educational tool which alert motorists to the presence of bicyclists. 

Programs for Law Enforcement Officials


Bicycle safety education and promotion programs will hopefully reduce the need for heavy investments in enforcement. Nonetheless, the Police Department must enforce traffic regulations for both children and adult bicyclists, and motorists. Police officers are generally hesitant to cite bicycle offenders, especially children, because they believe it will result in negative publicity for the department As a result, some bicyclists are under the impression that they can do whatever they want while on a bicycle. However, roughly half of bicycle/automobile accidents are caused by the bicyclist who is NOT following the rules of the road, i.e. riding on the wrong side of the street or riding without lights at night. (Source: Federal Highway Administration, "Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Types of the Early 1990’s, Publication No. FHWA-RD-95-163, June 1996.) Bicyclists who are unpredictable by driving standards are a hazard. Consequently, enforcement should be viewed as another component of a bicycle education program and as a most effective way to reduce the number of bicycle accidents and injuries.


  • Police officers and departments need to be convinced that enforcing traffic regulations for bicyclists is a good idea. Officers also need some education on the laws regarding bicyclists’ rights and responsibilities, on how best to approach the bicyclist offender, and on what offenses should be earmarked for enforcement. Any bicycle enforcement program should start first with a citation alternative program and warnings, and then move to giving citations. 
  • In 1994, California made it easier to use enforcement as a bicycle education and safety tool by allowing local authorities to reduce fines for bicycle offenses. Previously, bicyclists were fined at the same rates as motor vehicle offenders. Most police officers and departments felt that these fines for a bicyclist, especially a child, were excessive and were hesitant to impose them. The City should develop its own bicycle fine structure so that bicycle fines will not be excessive and officers will be more willing to impose them. 
  • A citation alternative program, such as those developed for children not wearing a helmet, should be developed for adults. Attendance at an education program, similar to auto traffic school, would allow fees to be waived. Motorists involved in a bicycle collision could also be required to attend, to learn how to safely share the road. 
  • Posted speed limits should be enforced. High auto speeds make bicyclists feel unsafe, discourage people from trying out cycling, and increase the severity of collisions. 
  • The City should expand opportunities for people to register their bikes by either increasing the hours for bike registration or allowing bike shops to register bikes when they are sold. 


Bicycle education programs face serious challenges; they must compete for funds, and for public interest and participation with school, work, family and all the usual daily distractions. Attempts by a community to provide all these programs can put stress on a system that is already overloaded; money and staff are in short supply in every jurisdiction. For this reason, a community must explore all possible avenues in designing and implementing a bicycle education strategy and prioritize which programs are the most important. School districts and city departments such as Planning, Public Works, Police, and Health and Human Services must be brought into the effort. Community and civic organizations, employers, local businesses, and cycling clubs should also be tapped as resources. Some of the most successful programs are a result of coalitions of public agencies and private groups working together towards a common goal.
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