This Saturday, families will gather in Virginia Avenue Park for the first Kidical Mass family bike ride of 2017.
Taking its name from “Critical Mass,” large social bike rides organized to make bike riding more visible in the streets, Kidical Mass is a family-friendly group ride aimed at introducing parents and children alike to safe riding in Santa Monica.
Kidical Mass “teaches parents proper techniques to keep the kids safe and empowers them by showing them how easy it is to ride,” said Cory Keen, the city’s administrator for its Safe Routes to School program, a multi-faceted approach to getting children and parents to ditch the car and get to school by other, more sustainable means.
“The idea is that they go on these rides and they say, ‘Hey, that wasn’t so bad,’” Keen said of the Kidical Mass rides, which happen four times a year.
The event is carried out through a partnership between Santa Monica Spoke, a local bicycle advocacy nonprofit, and the city. This quarter’s ride is called “Wheel You Be My Valentine?” and, like all Kidical Mass events, will include snacks, games, and a bike safety check. Participants are encouraged to wear red and pink and decorate their outfits with hearts.
“It’s a fun and family-friendly bike ride that’s meant to give parents and kids some soft training while having a good time,” Keen said.
The seeds for the Safe Routes to School program, of which Kidical Mass is a part, were planted a decade ago when student activists at Santa Monica High School began organizing “Bike It!” days — based on national “Bike It! Walk It!” Day — to encourage fellow high school students to get out of their cars and get to school in a more sustainable, healthier way.
It was through the work of the students at the Samohi Solar Alliance that it came to the attention of the city that there was a local movement brewing.
Today, the entire district participates in “Bike It! Walk It! Bus It!” days twice a year, during which students are encouraged to bike, walk, or take transit to get to school. Over the past five or six years, participation has grown about 10 percent each year to about 50 percent district-wide, Keen said.
Last year, McKinley Elementary School had an 84 percent participation rate in “Bike It! Walk It! Bus It!” day, an all time record high for any school in the district, said Keen.
While Kidical Mass and “Bike It! Walk It! Bus It!” days are two very visible components of Santa Monica’s Safe Routes to School program, there’s a lot more going on.
Santa Monica’s Safe Routes to School program is a local version of the national program, which focuses on the “five Es,” Keen said: education, encouragement, engineering (in the sense of traffic engineering), enforcement, and evaluation.
While “Bike It! Walk It! Bus It!” days obviously fall under the encouragement category, they also help with evaluating the success of the programs, allowing administrators to get counts of the number of students participating.
From the engineering side, the city has secured about $1.5 million (about half from Transportation Impact Fees and half from the city’s general fund) for street safety improvements within a half-mile radius around Will Rogers Elementary, John Adams Middle School, Lincoln Middle School, Roosevelt Elementary, and Santa Monica High School.
Those improvements will include adding new crosswalks, restriping existing crosswalks, and building curb bulbouts.
Then there is the Edison Elementary Safe Routes project, which will extend the Michigan Avenue Greenway safety improvements east of Cloverfield and connect to the Sunset Park neighborhood south of Pico Boulevard.
Kidical Mass is part of the Santa Monica’s Safe Routes to School education component. But the city also works with Santa Monica Spoke to educate students at summer and afterschool Childcare, Recreation, Enrichment, Sports Together (CREST) programs.
At these events, kids get a chance to learn about bike safety and ride around a small obstacle course that helps them build their biking skills.
As Safe Routes to School begins to enter a new phase, Keen said, they are engaging closely with Santa Monica Police Department crossing guards and other public safety personnel to work on the enforcement component.
As the program continues — and expands — Keen is optimistic that Santa Monica will see more and more people continue to change their habits and get to school by means other than driving.
For more information about Safe Routes to School and Kidical Mass, visit smgov.net.