At Princeton’s second annual bicycle rodeo in the Princeton Township Municipal parking lot, Borough Police Officer Daniel Federico holds his left arm away from his body, crooked at the elbow, with palm facing behind him. This, he explains to the group of kids clustered around him, is a signal that a cyclist is slowing down or coming to a stop.
The demonstration was part of a safety talk at the rodeo meant to teach children how to bike safely. Federico and other officers from both township and borough showed kids how to signal a right turn (left arm raised, bent at the elbow) and a left turn (left arm extended outward, parallel to the road), as well as some basic rules of the road.
But the talk was enlightening for adults as well as kids. Police officers also explained about sharrows, a term unfamiliar to many people.
Sharrows are becoming more and more common, so that even if the word is new to you, you have probably seen one somewhere in Princeton. Sharrows are also called shared-lane markings, and the word is a fusion of the words share and arrow.
The markings, consisting of a bicycle symbol and two V-shaped arrows, are painted on roads for a number of reasons. Sharrows encourage bicyclists to ride on the road rather than the sidewalk, remind cyclists and motorists that cyclists should ride with traffic, not against it, and show cyclists how to position themselves in a lane of traffic.
The concept of a sharrow may have gone over many kids’ heads at the bicycle rodeo, but other lessons stuck. The rodeo’s bicycle course required kids to use the hand signals when turning – before they got to zigzag between a series of plastic cones.
The course also required kids to stop at stop signs, to walk their bikes across crosswalks and to cycle around the open door of a car (to remind kids to keep a safe distance between themselves and parked cars).
The event was held at John Witherspoon Middle School last year, but was moved to the township municipal lot this year in hopes of attracting a larger crowd. “This is a more central location,” Solovay said.
The goal of the event is to teach kids basic road and bike safety, so they become confidant, safe cyclists, Princeton Township Police Officer Matthew Solovay said. “Princeton is a really bike friendly community. We want to start kids early with knowing bike safety.”
The bike rodeo is a great way to do this, Solovay said, because the safety talk presents information to the kids on how to stay safe while biking, while the rodeo’s bicycle course reinforces those practices by having kids go through the motions on the course.
The rodeo also featured the Boys and Girls Club Bike Exchange as well as local bike shop Jay’s Cycles. Both groups were equipped to check kids’ and adults’ bikes and give bikes a tune-up. Kids were also encouraged to register their bikes with the police department. A registered bike, if stolen, Solovay said, is much more likely to be returned to the owner.
The event was sponsored in part by Princeton Human Services, which was also responsible for the idea of the rodeo, Solovay said. “Last year, human services approached both police departments and asked if we were willing to participate.”
The event is one that used to be held “a long time ago,” said Princeton’s Director of Human Services Cynthia Mendez, but it fell by the wayside until last year.
Mendez said the commission is pleased to have the event going again.
“We’re excited and we’re glad to be working with the police department. They’ve been great,” Mendez said. “It’s a really good collaboration with government agencies.”
Other townships also hold similar events, Mendez said, but bike safety is especially important in Princeton. “Princeton is a walkable, bikable community,” Mendez said. “I think it’s really important for kids to be safe.”
Princeton Freewheelers member and former chairman of the Princeton Township Sidewalk and Bikeway Advisory Committee Michael Suber agreed.
“We don’t have an educational system in Princeton to teach kids how to ride,” Suber said.
When kids are young, Suber said, they should be allowed to ride on the sidewalk, but when they are old enough to understand the rules of the road, they should ride on the street. Sidewalks are more dangerous than roads, as they cross driveways, where cars may back into a passing cyclist, Suber said.
“People have to learn to ride in traffic,” Suber added. “Once you learn to ride in traffic, you can ride anywhere.”
The Princeton bike rodeo gives kids some basic knowledge, Suber said, which they can build on as they grow older and better understand the rules of traffic.
“The rodeo is a good introduction,” Suber said.