The Safety Course

London Welch goes through the bike traffic safety course under the instruction of St. Helens Police Department Code Enforcement Officer Marimar Moreno.

As the weather gets warmer, more St. Helens residents will take to the streets by bike. But do they all know the rules of the road?

That’s just what the Bike Rodeo and Safety Fair addressed on Saturday, May 18. The fair, coordinated by Lynn Chiotti, secretary of the Columbia County Traffic Safety Commission, was designed to teach both children and parents the rules of the road and proper bicycle care.

According to Chiotti, 52 children showed up between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.to attend the event.

The idea for the fair came after the St. Helens Police Department (SHPD) noticed a need for more safety instruction regarding biking in traffic, according to Seann Luedke, SHPD officer.

“We've had an uptick in children-related calls about jumping in the road or riding in the road," Luedke said. "And at the beginning of this year, the Traffic Safety Commission asked how we could fix that."

The fair's main event included a bike safety course, which children went through under the supervision and instruction of an adult volunteer. But before they got to that point, children had to go through several other steps.

First, children registered, and their parents signed a waiver. After that, the participant was led to a table where he or she could pick a helmet and make sure it fit. The next step was to have their bike inspected. The bike inspection involved repairing the child’s bike, if needed, and to give their bike necessary items like better reflectors or lights.

Right before the course, children had their basic bike skills checked to ensure they were able to ride their bike. Then, they got to the course.

The course tested different skills that children need to know when traveling on the road by bike, according to volunteer Trinity Monahan.

“What we're doing here is we're trying to layer up skills,” Monahan said. “We’re going to give them kind of the basic stuff and then we're going to provide them the ability to kind of learn some new things.”

The first skill participants learned was how to brake properly, using the bike’s pedals and not their feet. From there, kids added the “stop” hand signal, which is where they motion to the ground using their left hand. The next step in the course covered biking in a straight line, even when checking over their shoulder for cars or people who might pass them on bikes.

The final step covered what to do at an intersection, and kids had to make sure they stopped at a stop sign and used the proper hand signals to indicate if they were going to turn left or right.

Monahan said he believes it is not just the kids who benefit from doing the course.

“It’s important to give the kids the skills and even more important for the parents to see these things so that they can then take these skills home and practice with their kids because the kids may not remember all of those things,” Monahan said.

In addition to the course, the fair also covered other aspects of bike safety.

Volunteer Alan Becker rambled around the fair wearing a bright vest with the words, “Saved by my Helmet” written on it. He told those who came up to him about the time he was in a bike accident and would have died had he not been wearing his helmet.

There were other stations too. One station covered proper procedure for stopping near a bus. One instructed parents about proper car seat usage. One booth, covered by representatives from the Oregon Department of Transportation, answered construction zone questions.

A final station featured a large tow truck that instructed children on the proper procedure for riding near a slow-moving vehicle.

The tow truck also featured two bikes that children could win in the raffle, which was also part of the Bike Rodeo and Safety Fair. According to Chiotti, winners of the raffle were drawn, but their names will not be announced until the June 5 meeting of the Traffic Safety Commission at 7:30 a.m.

Chiotti said parents have been informed that their child won, but they are keeping it secret from the kids until June 5. Chiotti also said there are eight prizes: two bikes, each won by a boy and a girl, and six winners of a reflectorized vest.

While the Columbia County Traffic Safety Commission led the event, many other groups also participated to make the fair, according to Chiotti.

“This was really a way to get all civic groups in St. Helens involved in one project,” Chiotti said. Those civic groups include both St. Helens Kiwanis groups, the Lions Club, the Rotary Club, and InRoads Credit Union, which supplied donations for the helmets. Other donations came from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, which supplied the two bikes.

There were other volunteer groups that showed up to help the fair, including the St. Helens High School Key Club, the St.Helens Middle School Builders Club, and the American Heritage Girls.

Chiotti said there might be a few changes they make for the next fair, including getting certified car seat technicians to come, moving fire trucks closer to the course to make them more visible, and station an expert next to the fire truck to answer questions on construction and safety.

Even with areas to improve, Chiotti said she feels positively about the event.

“It was very well received,” she said. “We’re already talking about doing it again.”

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