Aidan Billingsley is old enough to drive but hasn’t learned yet. He uses two wheels, not four, to get where he needs to go — school, the library, his summer job as a counselor at Vancouver’s bike skills camp.
“I haven’t even considered a driver’s license,” said Aidan, 16.
His confidence as a bicyclist, carefully cultivated by his parents, grew over time. He’s among a dwindling number of kids who ride regularly, according to national statistics. Bike Clark County, a local nonprofit, is working to reverse that trend.
“For the kids, biking is fantastic. It gives them that sense of freedom and self-esteem,” said Jenny Jasinski, Aidan’s mother and volunteer for the nonprofit Bike Clark County. “As a parent, of course, you want to make sure that they’re safe.”
Bike Clark County addresses that concern by offering a day camp on cycling safety for children ages 6 to 14 each summer in collaboration with the city of Vancouver, as well as training in middle school P.E. classes.
The camps and classes are just a start, said Lisa Giacchino, Bike Clark County’s program manager. Kids also need a chance to practice over time.
She and her husband, Eric, who founded Bike Clark County, started cycling with their twin daughters, now 12, when they were young.
“They’ve watched us. We’re teaching as we’re riding,” Lisa Giacchino said. “Now I feel comfortable with them riding to the library on their own. They know the right ways to go. They’re crazy safe.”
Jasinski and her husband, Patrick Billingsley, also rode with their children over years to build their skills.
“I don’t know that it’s something we consciously thought out in advance. It’s the natural progression of parenting,” Jasinski said. “When the kids were really little, they cycled on the sidewalk. Then they transitioned to riding on the streets. They slowly worked their way up to going on short trips on their own.”
Parents of kids who participate in Bike Clark County programs often say the training makes them feel more comfortable letting their children cycle around the neighborhood or to school, Giacchino said.
But many parents still worry about safety, which may explain ridership statistics.
Nationwide, the number of children ages 6 to 17 riding regularly (more than 25 times a year) fell from 7.3 million to 6.1 million between 2014 to 2018, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
Washington tracks the number of children who bike to school, and that number has held constant at a little more than 1 percent statewide from 2014 to 2019, said Charlotte Claybrooke, active transportation programs manager for the Department of Transportation.
“What parents tend to report being their biggest concern is more about traffic danger than violence,” Claybrooke said.
While smartphones, TV and video games tend to take the blame for any reduction in kids’ physical activity, when it comes to cycling, drivers’ use of screens may be more of a culprit than kids’.
“Distracted driving is probably one of the biggest reasons that people don’t commute on bikes,” said Bike Clark County’s Aaron Gibson, who was injured when a car clipped him a few years back. “I commute on bike, and it’s a problem for me.”
Vancouver’s analysis of all 8,808 traffic crashes on city roads from 2010 to 2016 found driver inattention or failure to yield right of way caused 77 of the 168 bicycle collisions during that time frame, said Jennifer Campos, a city transportation planner.
Throughout Clark County last year, 81 cyclists were involved in crashes with cars, none fatal, and 21 involved children younger than 15, according to state data.
Perspective is important, however. State data show children are relatively less likely to be in bike accidents than other age groups, Claybrooke said. Middle-aged riders and men are most likely to be seriously injured or killed in bicycle accidents.