Iowa City addresses safety of children biking on the road

Iowa City has implemented many new bike plans, bike education, and designated bike lanes. Recent studies at the University of Iowa test if the rules parents teach their children about bike safety translate to college students and adults.


Hannah Rovner, News Reporter

Although wearing a helmet while riding a bike is one of the first “street-smart” tactics children learn about road safety, a University of Iowa researcher is now studying whether or not students in college or adults in the city actually apply golden rules such as this one to their everyday lives.  

UI Clinical Assistant Professor in the College of Public Health Cara Hamann specializes in global road safety and recently published a study to see if the rules communicated by parents to kids and adolescents translates to their experiences on the road. 

“We learn that a lot of kids are getting mixed messages about bike safety,” Hamann said. 

She also said it’s not recommended that children should ride on the sidewalk after age nine, but parents still tell kids to ride on the sidewalk because it is typically considered “safer.”

This biking culture in Iowa City is on an upward trend, however, after a motion was passed 7-0 in Tuesday night’s Iowa City Council meeting that will allow electric bikes and scooters in local parks. 

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The resolution follows another measure passed last month to take steps to establish an electric bike-sharing program throughout the city.

Despite the new bike lanes Iowa City recently implemented on Clinton Street, some college students admit to not following the recommended safety guidelines and ride on the sidewalk instead.

UI senior Marissa Vander Linden said she frequently rides her bike on campus, traveling from her home on the east side to classes on the west. 

“I preferably ride my bike on the sidewalk solely due to the fact I don’t wear a helmet — another rule I should be following,” Vander Linden said with a laugh.

Hamann said there is little agreement between what parents and adolescents report about biking instructions and what parents tell kids to do to stay safe on their bikes that doesn’t translate to what they do on the daily.

Sarah Walz, the assistant transportation planner for Iowa City, said people are safer riding on the street than the sidewalk. There is a clear discrepancy between safety recommendations and bike laws in comparison to what students do when biking on campus.  

Hamann suggested that students interested in biking on campus visit the Iowa City Bicycle Coalition website. 

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The coalition aims to educate the public about the rules of the road, Walz said, and Iowa City also has videos on their website for biking education. The videos cover everything from hand-turn-signals to how to lock one’s bike. 

The Clinton Street bike lanes are a major aspect of Iowa City’s Master Bike Plan, Walz said, and she believes cycling on the road is safe in Iowa City.

“People have always biked on Clinton Street, but now there is a designated bike lane to provide a space for bikes on the roadway,” Walz said. “The goal is to make bicyclists feel safer and make riding safer. The bike lane reserves a space on the road and also calls attention to motorists that there will be bikes on the road — if they didn’t notice already.” 

As Hamann’s study reveals that what children are taught about bike safety doesn’t translate to when they hit the road, Iowa City is working to reduce the risk of any safety hazard.

“Always wear a helmet,” Hamann said.

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