Exit133 is about Tacoma

Parks offer super sites for beginning cyclists, parents

So the bicycle your child received as a holiday or birthday gift proved a real hit, at least for the first couple of months. But now your son or daughter and his or her pals are bored with rolling around driveways, sidewalks and the neighborhood hoop court.

They’ve got wheels, they say, so why not go somewhere? Immediately, you balk. For city-dwelling parents, the prospect of kids riding through the streets is scary, especially if your little cyclists haven’t even started school.

In many ways, you share the fears of parents of adolescents eager to drive. The key, of course, is guidance. Bicycling enthusiasts say the best way to teach children the rules of the road is to get out there and ride with them. It’s important to find safe places to do that.

Kyle Clogston was lucky enough to grow up as the son of an avid cyclist. Clogston, 29, education specialist for Metro Parks’ Outdoor Adventures program, likes to tell people he grew up on his dad’s bike. “By age 10, I did the STP (Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic) on the back of a tandem.” By keeping an eye on his dad, he learned the rules of the road; he practiced on the quiet country roads of Orcas Island.

“It definitely got me excited about riding,” he says. Cycling remains his favorite outdoor activity. He regularly cycles to work, loves mountain biking and keeps seven bikes, including a tandem, in his downtown Tacoma studio apartment.

Clogston and others say Metro Parks offers lots of places to ride where you and your children don’t have to worry about traffic. A great place to teach kids the rules of the road is Swan Creek Park. The 373-acre park on Tacoma’s East Side is not only home to the region’s premier mountain bike venue – 50 wooded acres – but includes a whole network of paved roads from the old Salishan housing complex, which was razed many years ago.

“It’s like riding around in a neighborhood,” said Matt Newport, a father of three who leads monthly Kidical Mass rides around Tacoma for kids and adult caregivers. “Some of the streets are still painted with yellow lines down the middle.”

Newport, who also writes a blog called kidicalmasstacoma.blogspot.com, says each time he leads the Kidical Mass group, kids pick up and echo his cues. “Kids will figure it out just by following you.” So the best way to reach the rules of the road is to ride with your children.

At the same time, a little bit of instruction goes a long way. For example, the rule is that bicycles, like cars, stay to the right side of the street. “Kids struggle with left and right,” says Newport. So often when leading a group ride, he begins by turning his back to the group and pointing out the two directions.

Newport’s usual ride is a cargo bike, big enough to carry his 2 ½-year-old son and piles of groceries. When he signals for a turn, he often sees the shadow of his son Malcolm’s little hand in the back mimicking his signal. “All you have to do is do the right thing and they’ll parrot you. They’ll want to do the same.”

 

Most Kidical Mass rides start out at Metro Parks sites; Newport says many are great off-road places to train young riders. Among the options:

  1. Point Defiance Park. The outer loop of Five Mile Drive is closed to traffic for several hours daily: weekdays until 10 a.m. and weekends until 1 p.m. Looking to the future, an elevated pedestrian-bicycle pathway will connect the park to Ruston Way in late 2017. 
  2. Wright Park. This a great spot for the youngest riders, Newport says. “You can do a big figure eight.” At age 2, his son learned to coast while riding his push bike on one of the gravel paths here.  
  3. Wapato Park. The trail around Wapato Lake is an appealing loop. “It’s nice when it goes in a circle,” Newport says. 
  4. Water Flume Line Trail. This paved bike path connects South Park to Oak Tree Park and continues to South Tacoma Way near Lakewood. Street crossings are well marked.

In the absence of vehicles, young cyclists encounter and learn how to get around others: cyclists, runners, walkers, kids on skateboards and people walking dogs. “Having to interact with all those types of traffic…is step one of how to act when riding in the street,” Newport says.

Kidical Mass event

  • What: 3.4-mile round-trip group ride for children and adult caregivers
  • Where: From Lincoln Park to Lincoln Heights Park and back by crossing Interstate 5 on the pedestrian bridge
  • When: 11 a.m. Sunday, May 15
  • Cost: Free. Riders must provide their own bikes and helmets.
  • Information: For this and other May Bike Month events, go to bike253.com.

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