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Teaching kids to cycle safely

The best way to make people confident in cycling, says instructor Evan Ferrari, is to see other people riding bicycles
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A group of Grade 8 students from St. John Catholic School, led by CanBike instructor Evan Ferrari, use the crosswalk to cross Speedvale Avenue after riding the trail through Riverside Park in this file photo. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday

With an increase in cycling infrastructure in Guelph comes an increase in the importance of educating young people how to cycle safety, says a local instructor.

For about 20 years, Evan Ferrari has been teaching young people in Guelph how to cycle safely.

Ferrari said his one-day safety course he teaches to elementary and high school students is a defensive driving lesson for cyclists.

“It’s an urban survival course for people on the road because some are frightened to death of (cycling). With children, what do we do? We put them on a bike when they are seven, give them a push and say everything is fine. We don’t hand a seven-year-old the car keys and say go drive the car. That’s the kind of responsibility we’re expecting them to have,” said Ferrari.

The one-day course is part of a national program called CanBike, which is offered by the Canadian Cycling Association.

Ferrari is certified to offer the one-day course, as well as a more intensive three-day version for adults.

On Wednesday, Ferrari was instructing Grade 10 students enrolled in the Community Environmental Leadership Program (CELP) offered by Centennial Collegiate and the Upper Grand District School Board.

CELP teacher Joel Barr suggested as more people are educated about cycling, the safer the roads will be.

“I think if people learned to cycle first — if we had a program where every Grade 8 kid was taught to cycle properly — we would have a lot less cars on the road and also have a bunch of people who understand how to be responsible and kind and generous on the road, because you can’t be aggressive on a bike and survive,” said Barr.

CELP is a one-semester leadership program in which students earn high school credits in the context of environmental issues.

Students enrolled in CELP take the one-day cycling safety course and then bike to various field trips during the semester.

Ferrari said students can be expected to cycle up to 20 kilometres in a single school day, which is in line with the environmental principles taught in the course and works toward the physical education requirements.

“In reality it’s not that difficult for anyone who is willing to put some effort into it,” said Ferrari.

The Wellington Catholic District School Board has a similar leadership program called TERRA, in which Ferrari also teaches safe cycling.

The best way to make people confident in cycling, said Ferrari, is to see other people riding bicycles.

“In places all over the world, the math is quite consistent — the more people that are (cycling) encourages even more people on the road. There’s strength in numbers. At the same time, it slows cars down when they see people on bikes,” said Ferrari.

The improvements in cycling infrastructure in Guelph over the last 20 years has been a dramatic improvement, said Ferrari, but he notes there are still some challenges.

“The city took out all of the parking meters downtown. When they did, we lost 80 per cent of our bike and post rings that used to be there,” said Ferrari.

One comparably-sized city in Holland is way ahead of Guelph in terms of cycling infrastructure, said Ferrari. 

“At our train station we have almost 40 bike parking stations — which is great. They have 10,000,” he noted.

Ferrari said he can remember the opposition when the first bike lanes were installed about 20 years ago.

“Now you can ride from Woodlawn to Clair Road on bike lanes the entire way. That’s exciting,” said Ferrari.