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Handful of schools lead nation with rare teaching tool for cyclists, local elementary school joins

Jordan Bell

A local elementary school is now using a rare teaching tool, one used by just a handful of schools throughout the country.

Fifth graders at Oceano Elementary practice how to proceed at a four-way stop on the school's recently completed bicycle course. It's painted on the blacktop and simulates real-life traffic situations.

The school participates with San Luis Obispo County's Safe Routes to School Program, a product of Rideshare. Sara Sanders is the organization's Program Coordinator and oversees schools in the region. She also designed the track.

"I made the simulated streets a little bit smaller than a typical bike lane, so these students could practice how to maneuver those," said Sanders. "Some streets don't even have bike lanes."

Sanders worked with Oceano teacher Jim DeCecco, who brought the idea forward after he saw a similar bicycle course in Europe.

Oceano Principal Ron Walton said the school paid to paint the course, but other factors can drive the price up. But in this case, Oceano was already resurfacing its blacktop and Sanders donated the design.

Walton said even before the course, the school embraced alternative forms of transportation.

"What we're doing is getting the educational component in early, which is very appropriate. Kids are kids, so they need constant practice at doing the right thing on the road. So that's kind of where we think we are. And if we can set a new model for schools, or parks, or cities, to do this kind of thing, in different locations, it can only be good," said Walton.

There are several alternative transportation programs throughout the country, encouraging students to bike or walk to school. Nancy Pullen-Seufert is the Associate Director for the National Center for Safe Routes to School based in North Carolina.

She says her organization knows of about ten of these permanent bicycle courses in the nation, and they are mostly seen in California schools.

"Certainly in a lot of ways California is a good indicator of the direction that the rest of the country is going, not in all things, but a lot of the time," said Pullen-Seufert. "For a good portion of California, the weather and in some cases the topography make it more possible for bicycling than in other parts of the country.

Pullen-Seufert said we're seeing efforts to encourage walking and biking in communities throughout the nation, and one component of that is keeping kids safe. Ways to accomplish that, like practicing bicycle skills, she said is certainly of increasing interest.

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