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This page (http://users.soe.ucsc.edu/~karplus/bike/safe-route-to-school.html) is intended as a supplement to the "guidelines for choosing a safe route to school" in The safest route to school project: a teacher's guide (AAA pamphlet #3213), which gives guidelines only suitable for pedestrians.
Choosing a safe bicycle route to school is different from choosing a safe walking route---bicyclists and pedestrians have different needs for maximum safety. The higher speed of bicyclists increases the need for visibility, smooth surfaces, and predictable interaction with other road users.
Note also that bicycle skills vary among students more than walking skills do, and they are usually acquired at a later age. Younger children have less skill at estimating closing speed for automobiles and have less ability to process peripheral vision. Younger children should therefore cycle mainly on less complicated streets, where they can focus on one hazard at a time. Older students will cycle faster, and so they need to have longer sight lines. Routes suitable for high schoolers may be unsuitable for elementary school students, and vice versa.
Publishing recommended routes to school is not sufficient for encouraging bicycling to school. Other measures are also needed, including bicycle education, safe bike parking, rewards for cycling (such as bike-to-school days), bike-to-school "bus" groups lead by an adult, and so forth.
When choosing safe bicycle routes to school, look for
Use off-street routes only when they have no intersections with streets or driveways, or when they provide a substantial short cut. The faster the cyclists, the more important it is to avoid sidewalks.
Bicyclists should ride on the right side of the street with traffic for maximum safety (wrong way sidewalk riding has the highest risk). When the road is so narrow and so busy that young cyclists cannot ride on it safely, they should walk their bikes on the sidewalk. Generally, this is only feasible to require near intersections with crossing guards.
Where uphill slopes are so steep that the cyclists cannot maintain a straight line (about percent slope equal to age up to 12 years old), students should get off and walk on their bikes on the sidewalk. Similarly steep downgrades require well-maintained brakes and training in braking on hills. Students without that training should walk their bikes down the hills.
Also watch out for drain grates, potholes, obstructed visibility, dogs off-leash, and other obvious hazards. It is best to scout out the routes by bicycle and consult with bicyclists who regularly cycle in the area.
There are two ways to do left-turns safely: merging into the left-turn lane or crossing, stopping, turning the bike in place, and crossing again. The merge-left technique can be learned by students as young as 9-10 years old (later for multi-lane streets), but younger students should use the cross-stop&turn-cross technique.
When left-turns are necessary, it is best if they can be done from low-traffic streets onto low-traffic streets, with all-way stops or traffic signals. T-intersections make left turns a bit easier, since there are fewer directions of traffic to watch out for.
Where right-turn-only lanes are unavoidable, younger cyclists should probably be directed to walk their bikes on the sidewalk.
Alan Wachtel and Diana Lewiston, "Risk factors for bicycle-motor
vehicle collisions at intersections", ITE Journal, September 1994, 30-35.
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