A bicycle education program for Topeka Unified School District 501 elementary students will begin this spring, due in large part to $23,500 the program received on Monday from the Topeka Community Foundation and the Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods coalition.
“It will allow us to reach a whole other demographic of Topekans in offering safe-riding courses for fourth- and fifth-graders within (USD) 501 schools,” said Andy Fry, of the Topeka Community Cycle Project. “We’ll be able to offer them the basics of how to navigate the roads safely. For the kids who don’t know already how to ride a bicycle, we’ll be able to teach them balance and the basics of riding a bicycle.”
In partnership with Safe Kids of Shawnee County and the League of American Bicyclists Instructors, Fry said the weeklong course will be taught by USD 501 physical education teachers beginning this spring for the next five years and will be integrated into USD 501’s physical education curriculum.
Fry said the Topeka Bike Lessons and Safety Tools, or Topeka BLAST, is modeled after a similar program in Kansas City.
“We wanted to bring that here,” he said. “We don’t have the resources to provide our own instructors, so working with 501, we can harness the partnership of their existing P.E. instructors and have it during their P.E. time of the day. It will be a mobile unit that will go school to school.”
The Topeka Bikeways Committee also received $16,500 on Monday from the Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods coalition to complete the first phase of the committee’s project to provide 422 street signs, 24 over-the-street mast signs and construction of wider sidewalks along 54 miles of bike routes across Topeka. The second phase of the project will begin in the spring and is estimated to cost $400,000 — 20 percent of which is private funding — which will add more signage and wider sidewalks to additional streets.
Ralph Krumins, of the Bikeways Advisory Council, said when the push started in 2009 to make Topeka safer for bicyclists, it seemed like an uphill climb. However, he said with the Complete Streets resolution passed that same year by the Topeka City Council, acceptance for a variety of transportation has steadily grown throughout Topeka.
“It’s a lot safer to be able to get around when you have streets that are marked for bicycles,” Krumins said of the recent progress made by the Complete Streets and Bikeways council in the past several years. “We still have some education to do and get people up to speed on what has already happened, but we’re really very excited about it.”
The gifts for the Topeka USD 501 bike program and bikeways signage were presented during the Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods meeting Monday at Lake Shawnee. Several Shawnee County partner organizations reported on progress they have made in the past year and plans for 2016 on a variety of health-based initiatives.
Also during Monday’s meeting, John Calbeck, the outgoing chairperson for Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods, announced the Wichita-based Kansas Leadership Center is donating $50,000 of in-kind funds for 2016 strategic planning by the Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods partner organizations.
“They’ve (Kansas Leadership Center) been a major supporter of us the whole time,” Calbeck said.