Oh, to be a kid again.
I used to play all sorts of games of pretend when I was young. When I was in elementary school, we lived in a small town just outside of metro Boston and I spent a lot of time exploring, imagining, and riding my bike. There’s something about riding fast, with the wind in your hair, and the world sprawled out before you (even if the “world” was really just a loop you could circle endlessly) that felt so empowering.
As a kid, you don’t really have much power to speak of (except, perhaps, whatever you can exert over your younger siblings). So being able to pedal around, exploring the world and dreaming about your place in it… that’s really something. It’s a chance to test things out (What happens when I bike really, really fast and then break really hard?), learn new skills (Look at me! I can speed towards that rock in the road, and then avoid it at the last minute.), and imagine that you’re a whole lot older than you really are (driving your “car” all around town).
I believe there’s a lot of power in imagining — in acting out a scenario, whether it’s in your head or in real life, until it becomes ingrained into how you operate. That’s why we insist that teenagers drive for at least 50 hours before they can get their drivers license. That’s a part of why recess is so important during the school day — so that kids have time for adventure, free play, and imagining. And that’s why the City of Fort Collins has built the all new Walk & Wheel Skills Hub.
There are a variety of ways to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in town. The most important is to build infrastructure that creates safe places for every traveler, no matter what mode of travel they’re using. But education also plays an important role. The Walk & Wheel Skills Hub provides a place for the Safe Routes to School program to teach people of all ages how to safely use the various types of bicycle facilities (bike lanes, bike boxes, etc.) but it also covers other important skills and know-how… like how to safely avoid a rock or stick in the road, or how to traverse a roundabout without encouraging cars to pass unsafely.
But the best thing of all is that this Hub is open every day, whether there’s a program going on or not. So kids can hop on the Spring Creek Trail and pedal on over. Families can add the Hub to their list of hang-out places where kids can play safely for hours on end. (And, of course, Rolland Moore Park is just down the trail, making it a really optimal location for a family day out and about.) And because the Hub is like a “miniature city” painted onto the pavement, kids can use their imaginations to travel all around the world on the various “streets.”
When kids who have been using the Hub grow up and start driving, they’ll already be familiar with all of the bicycle signage and facilities that we’re using here in Fort Collins because exact replicas have been painted onto the pavement. So pedaling around the Hub allows reading and responding to the signage to become second nature as the kids engage in imaginative scenarios about where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. In other words, some kids might come here specifically to learn. But the more the Hub becomes a place to ride a bike in play, the more the signage just becomes part of the game and imprints itself into their understanding of how streets work.
No game of make-believe is complete without a bit of danger, whether it be from a fiery dragon, a raging storm, or the chance of getting doored while riding in the bike lane. The Hub gives you the opportunity to safely skirt the danger of being doored. The only improvement that could possibly be made here some day would be to have a 3-dimensional “car” added that would not only give a better sense of what it’s like to pass a parked vehicle as a bicylist, but that would also be provide another opportunity for kids to climb around and play.
Perhaps monkey bars in the shape of a car could be built so that kids can also pretend to drive the vehicle, or climb around on it acting out various adventures. It might seem odd to recommend having a car proxy in a bike and pedestrian safety park that kids could practice using, but the opportunity to imagine driving a car around bicyclists and pedestrians would help to reinforce the idea that all types of travelers need to be watching out for each other.
Other skills that bicyclists will learn is how to safely cross train tracks (even if they’re not real train tracks in the course), to get left to turn left, and to always travel on the right hand side of the road (moving with traffic and not against it).
If you haven’t checked out the Walk & Wheel Skills Hub yet, Autumn will be a great time to do so with the temperatures falling but the days still long enough to have bike riding time after school’s out. The Hub is located in a parking lot on the north side of Drake at Dunbar, just off the Spring Creek Trail and along the Dunbar Bikeway.
The parking lot belongs to Summitview Church which has leased this portion out to the City. The Church’s support means that the City is able to provide this Skills Hub in a central part of town without a huge outlay of additional cash to purchase land and pave it. So if you know anyone that attends Summitview, give them a high five and thank them the next time you see them.