The City of Boston has temporarily suspended its popular Youth Cycling Programs this fall because of staff turnover at the Boston Transportation Department, according to city officials.
The city's Youth Cycling Program brought bikes, helmets and cycling safety educators to Boston public school classrooms for multi-day bike safety classes, including group rides around city neighborhoods for older students. The city webpage for the program claims that "more than 38,000 young Bostonians have participated in the program since 2009."
Sam Balto, a former Boston Public Schools physical education teacher who taught at Ellis Elementary School in Roxbury, says its absence this fall is "a real shame."
"It was just a really quality program. Boston does a lot of things well and this is one of them," said Balto in a phone interview on Wednesday. "Learning how to ride bikes is an important skill. It's a great way to be physically active, it’s also a way to be social with friends, build autonomy, get to places and access jobs around their community."
Plus, added Balto, the excitement of learning how to ride a bike gave kids a positive association with their schools.
"Everybody remembers where they were and how they felt when they learned to ride a bike - and this gave kids the chance to create that memory, give them that experience at their school, which they'll have the rest of their lives," said Balto.
Becca Wolfson of the Boston Cyclists Union said that the program was valuable not only for teaching kids how to ride, but also for building a stronger constituency for safer streets citywide.
"When we recently completed our strategic plan we talked a lot about getting kids engaged in cycling - they can become the greatest advocates and change hearts and minds of their parents," said Wolfson in an email on Wednesday.
City officials say that they hope to build staff capacity to bring the youth programs back. The Boston Transportation Department has added over a dozen new employees in the past year and is currently advertising to hire another member of the growing Active Transportation Team.