Streetfilms: Learning Bike Safety in the Schoolyard

Robin Urban Smith files this report from P.S. 76 in the Bronx, where students wrapped up a month-long bike safety course with a playground "rodeo" on Wednesday. This June, Michael Needham Jr., a fifth-grader at the school, lost his life after a speeding car hit him while he was riding with friends near the Allerton library.

Watching this Streetfilm made me wonder if bike safety can be worked into gym classes throughout the city. It also brought to mind the words of former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa:

In Bogotá, our goal was to make a city for all the children. The
measure of a good city is one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle
can safely go anywhere. If a city is good for children, it will be good
for everybody else. Over the last 80 years we have been making cities
much more for cars’ mobility than for children’s happiness.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    To Principal Sedotto,

    The tragic death of Michael Needham Jr. seemed to have much more to do with the speeding of car that hit him, than it did about Michael not wearing a helmet. Not that children shouldn’t wear bicycle helmets but your tone about Michael not wearing a helmet, which is repeated ad nauseum in the media, would seem to indicate that you place blame with Michael for his death and not the driver of the speeding car.

    This is a great program that Bike New York has put together but I think you should educate yourself about what is truely to blame for bicyclists deaths in NYC and all around the US. While helmets can save a life, they are only a last line of defense. Let’s try to prevent accidents like that, that happened to Michael from ever happening in the first place before we worry if a cyclist was wearing a helmet or not.


    Andy B from Jersey

  • Car Free Nation

    It does seem like Principal Sedotto is assuming that having a helmet would have magically protected Michael Needham from the speeding car. Helmets can be helpful, but traffic enforcement and better designed streets are what we really need!

  • Emilia

    Demanding a speed hump on Barnes Avenue was, in fact, the first response by Allerton residents and Michael Needham Jr.’s family. See the August 7 report here:

    The PS76 Safety Committee has complemented this community activism with a comprehensive program addressing the ways kids can protect themselves (for example: by stopping before exiting driveways, by obeying traffic signals at intersections, and by being visible to motorists). I applaud their efforts.

  • Boris

    It seems strange that one of the bikes used for training the kids had the front brake disengaged.

    Take a look for it and you’ll see.

  • Rich Conroy

    Andy B.
    We have taken a look. If you look at the statistics on the causes of cyclist – motorist crashes, there’s a pretty even split between crashes caused by cyclist error and crashes caused by motorist error. New York City’s own research on cyclist fatalities showed that cyclist error accounted for 42% of fatal crashes. Let’s not forget that besides helmets and redesigning streets to make them more bike friendly that the skills, choices, and attitudes of the cyclist are critical ingredients in how safe cycling is.

    Besides, some of you seem to be mis-representing the principal’s plan of action here. Yes she bought helmets and distributed them there (and what exactly is wrong with that?). But it’s obvious she didn’t stop there. Most other principals would have done nothing, or worse, would have banned anything to do with cycling at school, like kids biking to school. So she provides a wide-ranging educational response, and get stoned for it by Streetsblog commenters. Nice.

    Rich Conroy

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Rich I do hear you. But in this circumstance it was clear that the driver’s speeding had EVERYTHING to do with the death of this child.

    A helmet may, MAY, have helped but anyone who knows a little about how bicycle helmets are designed can tell you that they are only designed to help in a fall off a bicycle. They are not intended for high-speed crashes with a car, where impact typically far exceed the design criteria and repeated impacts are common.

    And Rich you are right. The principal does deserve credit for bringing in Bike New York to do this program. HOWEVER, she should have said, “He was hit by a speeding car” instead of, “He was not wearing a helmet.”

    Now it could have been the editing that eliminated talk of this (I was aware that this could have been the case but I went with it anyway, if so, then Streetfilms needs to be more careful). However the way it came out the blame had already been cast on Michael.

    Blaming the victim and saying “The bicyclist was not wearing a helmet” is as insulting to cyclists as those who would say “What did she expect wearing a skirt that short,” about a rape victim or, “That ‘Boy’ should have known better than to come into our White neighborhood,” about a black man who was lynched for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    There is a new word out these days for which I can not take credit. It’s called “Bikeism” or I as prefer “Bikism.”

  • Rich C

    Eyewitnesses who weren’t quoted in the press (I learned this from school staff), also said that the child entered the street suddenly, from between 2 parked cars, and without really looking or yielding. A very common type of childhood bike crash, that can be prevented with better education about how to be safe while cycling in traffic. In this case different behavior by both the motorist and the cyclist could have prevented a tragedy.

    One of the problems in the bike community is that any attempt to exam the cyclist sources of crashes gets dismissed as “blaming the victim”, which is hardly productive in terms of helping cyclists to better understand how they can avoid being involved in crashes, even crashes caused by someone else’s mistakes. From the evidence of many studies, it’s simply statistically impossible for the motorist to always be at fault. If the cyclist is always the victim, there’s really no point in ever teaching cyclists how to cycle safely, because they have no control over preventing their own crashes, or to cycle in a manner that deters others’ driving errors that lead to crashes. It’s always someone else’s fault. I rather look at it from a “cyclists are powerful” perspective: cyclists have a LOT of control over their own safety, and can even have some influence over how drivers drive, simply by how they choose to ride.

    And wearing a helmet is only one of a number of things that cyclists have entirely under their own control, so that they aren’t victims of someone else’s errors. So are using traffic skills, etc, etc. Is it possible, Andy, that cyclists might sometimes be victims of their own cycling habits, rather than someone else’s actions? It’s popular on Streetsblog to always blame the motorist (often on the basis of very scanty data provided in press covereage). Have you ever seen a “wrong way” cyclist have a close call at an intersection? An invisible cyclist riding at night without lights at night? A red-light running cyclist cutting off a motorist who has the right of way? An inattentive cyclist yakking on the cell phone, with one less hand on the controls? Or, all of this stuff going on at once? I see that stuff practically every day here, of cyclists biking in ways that increase their odds of being in a crash. Are these cyclists potential victims of motorists mis-behavior, or potential victims of their own cycling habits? This is why “the cyclist is always the victim” mentality doesn’t get us very far in terms of taking as much control over our own safety as possible (and teaching others how to do so as well).

    Keep in mind, also: the principal is the administrator of a school (in this case, an award winning school), and not a bike advocate, traffic planner, or daily streetsblog reader. In this case, she pretty much got it right, and getting quoted in the press about using helmets rather than blaming a speeding driver seems to be a rather small quibble in the larger scheme of things.


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