Safe Routes in Schools: Oceano Elementary’s Bike Friendly Playground Makeover

Before&AfterBicycleTrackOceano1
The Oceano Elementary School playground before and after its makeover. Image courtesy SLOCOG

An elementary school in Oceano, California, just got the state’s first permanent bicycle track—inside a schoolyard. Inspired by an enthusiastic teacher, organized by a supportive principal, and designed by the regional Safe Routes to School coordinator, the playground markings give kids a safe place to practice riding bikes while learning the rules of the road.

The playground's flexible design can be used for a variety of games, including kickball (white squares), foursquare, circle games, and traffic games.
The playground’s flexible design can be used for a variety of games, including kickball (white squares), foursquare, circle games, and traffic games.

Or to just play. Like any playground markings, the new ones provide outlines that kids can use to make up their own games. The difference is that these ones look like two-lane roads with intersections, stop signs and yield signs. There’s even a roundabout featuring “shark’s teeth” at the wait line (see illustration). The playground’s designer, Sara Sanders from the San Luis Obispo Council of Government’s Safe Routes to School Program, found a way to incorporate other things that the teachers requested, including a kickball diamond, foursquare courts, and a circle that can be used for any circle games.

“It was a pretty fun project,” said Sanders, “and it came together with a small budget in only a few months.”

According to teacher Jim DeCecco, who sent home photos of bicycle learning facilities in Italy and Copenhagen, the enthusiastic support of Principal Ron Walton made it happen. In fact, by the time DeCecco returned from his trip to Europe, Walton had already begun consulting with the school facilities department.

The playground was due for a repaving, so they thought: why not incorporate a bicycle course?

It helps that the school, Oceano Elementary, already had a faculty that was actively involved in teaching their students to ride bikes and deal with traffic. An after-school program brings the students on bike rides, and students join veterans participating in the California Ride 2 Recovery.

Oceano students join veterans on the California Ride 2 Recovery. Photo courtesy Ride 2 Recovery.
Oceano students join veterans on the California Ride 2 Recovery. Photo courtesy Ride 2 Recovery.

The school also uses a bike-riding curriculum developed by Safe Routes to School that uses the state’s core standards to teach the rules of the road to 4th and 5th graders. In addition, a regional ATP grant will bring on-bike education to three pilot schools in the county.

“We’re trying to increase education and encouragement for active transportation,” said Sanders. “I don’t know how to actually measure the impact [of this project] but I think it’s really important for children to know…traffic rules before they become formal users of the road. I want students to grow up knowing the rules of the road and to learn how to look out for pedestrians and cyclists.”

“Since the course has been installed, our PE instructor has used the course with bikes to provide bicycle safety instruction,” writes DeCecco. “She has used it with kindergartens walking the track to teach students how to cross the street. The neighborhood parents have come after school and on weekends with their children to ride the course (or teach them how to ride).”

“All in all it has been a complete success,” DeCecco writes.

Even before the new playground, kids learned to ride bikes as part of the Oceano curriculum. Photo by Jim DeCecco.
Even before the new playground, kids learned to ride bikes as part of the Oceano curriculum. Photo by Jim DeCecco.

According to Sanders, “This project was kind of a dream to work with, because the principal was so supportive. They’re a great innovative school for our region. This school is in a disadvantaged community, and they have champions like the principal and [DeCecco] who are actively pushing for active transportation. They also have a good rate of use of walking and biking to school.”

Just imagine what a difference it would make if all 4th and 5th graders were taught to ride bikes and encouraged to use them as a normal way of getting around.

Readers: do you know of any other California schools that have facilities like this? Tell us in the comments below.

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