Kidical Mass: Training Wheels and Tots the Focus of Tallahassee Bike Crew

Posted 01/22/14 by Amy Kapp in Taking Action, Success Stories

Photo © Kidical Mass Tallahassee

"The bike movement has grown up, and now it has kids."

These are the words of Shane MacRhodes, founder of Kidical Mass - a national program designed to "provide a safe environment for kids and their parents to learn and practice [bicycle] safety skills" while creating awareness of the growing number of cyclists-including youth-in local areas. Hence the tagline: kids are traffic too.

The first ride took place in Eugene, Ore., in 2008, and today, more than 33 cities in the U.S. and Canada play host-one of them being the great capital city of Tallahassee, Fla.

Since late 2011, avid cyclist and stay-at-home mom Marie-Claire Leman and her husband Will Hanley, a history professor at Florida State University, have been organizing Kidical Mass rides in and around their neighborhood in an effort to encourage more family-wide bike use.

Photo © Kidical Mass Tallahassee

According to Leman, while bike-friendly infrastructure and bike advocacy are on the rise in Tallahassee, the overall makeup of the city can act as a deterrent for some who might otherwise choose biking for transportation.

"Tallahassee is really improving for cycling...but connectivity is still a big issue here. Neighborhoods are separated from each other by large boulevards...and there are very few controlled intersections and pedestrian crossings," she affirms. "We were inspired to create Kidical Mass Tallahassee so parents could see bikes as more than just toys...and start to imagine trips they could take with their kids. As the city becomes more connected, we hope that [our efforts] will help encourage more families to ride further afield."

Name-played on the Critical Mass bike-riding movement, in which events are designed to celebrate and assert the rights of cyclists, Kidical Mass events do not focus their impact on those witnessing the rides, but on the riders themselves.

"Critical Mass is often more's about changing other people's minds about cycling," Leman explains. "Kidical Mass is about changing the minds of those who participate. We are educating from within."

The rides organized by Leman and Hanley run three to four miles on average, with each event drawing between 35 and 50 children and adults of all experience levels. After meeting in a designated spot-usually nearby Optimist Park-the organizers provide a careful overview of the rules of the ride, which naturally coincide with the rules of street biking.

Children ride in a line on the right side of the street, and adults ride in a line to the left as a layer of protection against passing cars.

In the past two years, events have taken various shapes and forms: an edge-of-the-neighborhood ride and milkshake stop; an Earth Day excursion with a series of stops at neighborhood gardens; and a holiday Tour of Lights (yes, there was hot chocolate!).

When a park project two miles away from the organizers' neighborhood is complete, Kidical Mass Tallahassee will do an inaugural out-and-back event, departing for the first time from one neighborhood to visit another.

As more people become involved from other areas, Leman anticipates-and hopes-more events will pop up around Tallahassee. But, she is quick to note the impact the rides have already had on families in just two short years.

"We've seen kids motivated to leave their training wheels behind," she proclaims. "A number of children have asked their parents to remove them from their bikes after seeing others their age riding without them."

She continues, "I think more parents are starting to think, 'Let's ride to the park today. Let's ride to our friend's house instead of drive.' They know the streets in their neighborhood now, and they are saying to their kids, 'I know you are capable of climbing that hill on your bike because you did it during the Kidical Mass ride.'"

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