Bicycle club advocates safety by focusing on next generation

EDMONDS — Jan Niemi was 12 years old when her brother gave her a metallic blue bike with a banana seat. After her brother had sanded, repaired and welded the bike into mint condition, it was ready for anything. Niemi and her friends would cruise up and down bike ramps they built.

“We would go flying in the air and just crash,” Niemi said.

When Peter Hallson entered the second grade, he started biking to school every day.

“I have memories of my bike with a spring-loaded clamp in the back, and that’s how I would secure my school books,” Hallson said. “I rode my bike to school until it wasn’t cool anymore.”

The love Niemi and Hallson have for bicycles has spanned decades. They hope to foster that same love of riding in the next generation.

They serve as co-chairs of the Edmonds Bicycle Advocacy Group of residents who are passionate about safety for cyclists and pedestrians. The group was founded in 1994.

Known by participants as EBAG, the group promotes bicycle skills, fitness and commuting.

In partnership with the Seattle-based Cascade Bicycle Club, EBAG has supported the Basics of Bicycling, a three-week program used in school physical education classes since 2010.

The program consists of seven classes to teach students in third- through eighth-grades. Students learn about signaling, steering, entering a street from a driveway and other skills crucial to riding safely.

“EBAG is really focused on the next generation,” Hallson said.

EBAG and Cascade Bicycle Club, with financial support of donors, have provided about 100 bikes for students to use while they are in the program. The Cascade Bicycle Club provides training to physical education teachers. Today more than 6,000 children have passed the Basics of Bicycling Course in the Edmonds School District.

“EBAG was been a really critical piece in enabling us to deliver the program in Edmonds,” said Shannon Koller, the director of education at the Cascade Bicycle Club.

The advocacy group also assists the Cascade Bicycle Club with bike rodeos, which encourage children to ride safely.

On May 16, EBAG celebrated the annual Bike to Work Day. Members of EBAG rose early to set up a table outside the Copper Pot Indian Grill &Bar in Edmonds to greet cyclists disembarking the ferry, bus or trains. Riders were urged to sign up for raffle prizes and enjoy warm coffee before continuing their commute.

EBAG’s goals for the future include expanding the Basics of Bicycling program into all elementary and middle schools. Another prominent objective is bringing the Basics of Bicycling to high schools in the Edmonds School District. And the group is working on determining safe bicycling routes to schools.

EBAG works with the city of Edmonds, the school district, the police department, Cascade Bicycle Club and many others, Hallson said.

The popularity of biking has reached new heights in Washington.

It was recently named the most bike-friendly state in the country by the League of American Bicyclists for the seventh straight year.

On June 4, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials approved the designation of Washington’s first route in the nationwide U.S. Bicycle Route System. The 407-mile route follows Highway 20 from Newport to Anacortes, where riders can catch a ferry to Vancouver Island.

Although Washington has received nationwide praise, EBAG believes local advocacy and events are imperative for continued improvement of biker rights and safety.

Through EBAG, Hallson hosts community bike rides every Tuesday and Friday through Snohomish County and beyond.

Since he began riding his bike in second grade, Hallson has ridden more than 50,000 miles. In rain, shine or wind, Hallson buckles his helmet and starts pedaling.

“Fun, fitness and friends — that’s why I ride.”

Brenna Holland: 425-339-5350; bholland@heraldnet.com.

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