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Peddling Bicycle Safety : Friend’s Death Spurs Woman to Teach Kids to Stay Out of Danger

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Around the pothole, over the railroad tracks, through the busy intersection.

Seven-year-old Christina Rowles navigated past the danger without batting an eye. Or risking her neck.

It helped, of course, that the tiny bicyclist never ventured from the parking lot at the Carson Library on her unusual odyssey the other day. And it helped that Pat Hines stayed at her elbow the whole way.

Hines is the creator of Safe Moves, a nonprofit group that has taught bicycle safety to more than 1 million Los Angeles-area schoolchildren over the past eight years.

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She uses coloring books, crossword puzzles and game show-type quizzes to interest kids during school workshops. Outside, children such as Christina ride bicycles around cartoon-like plywood cutout hazards that line a pint-sized obstacle course.

Although Hines peddles bike safety in a humorous way, her crusade had a tragic start.

She began it after her best friend was killed on a bicycle Nov. 13, 1983, by a hit-and-run motorist. Sue Latham had been on her way to meet Hines for a morning ride on Malibu’s Pacific Coast Highway.

“The guilt I felt for Sue’s death was overwhelming,” Hines said. “I’d been responsible for her being interested in bicycle riding. . . . I’d told her, ‘Don’t worry, the cars have to look out for us.’ ”

Hines had been working in marketing and training for the 1984 Olympic

bicycling team. But she quit both to promote bike safety full time.

“Nothing could assuage my guilt until I started educating kids,” said Hines, 39. “To this day I can see the compassion in the faces of kids when they hear about my friend.”

Her Santa Monica-based program has grown slowly. Hines uses her marketing skills to win funding and support from public agencies and private companies.

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This year, she spent $400,000 to teach safety to more than 400,000 pupils at Los Angeles Unified School District campuses, at local private schools and at a few campuses in Orange and San Diego counties.

During the coming school year, she is hoping for another $600,000 that will extend safety training to 600,000 youngsters at other school systems in Los Angeles County.

The money comes from grants from the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the state Office of Traffic Safety. Support from the county’s Department of Public Works is pending, Hines said.

Besides bike safety, the program teaches youngsters how to safely ride skateboards and Roller Blade-type skates. It also provides instruction in how to pick safe routes to walk to school and how to use buses and other public transportation.

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A staff of 18 handles the instruction. They keep the lessons kid-sized in scope.

Workshops are designed around TV quiz shows. Pupils who answer safety questions correctly win free passes for their classmates to places such as Magic Mountain and the Los Angeles Children’s Museum and coupons from Jack in the Box.

Obstacle courses are usually set up on school playgrounds. Safe Moves provides bicycles and helmets for riders; children who remember the safety rules on the course also win passes and food coupons.

The program has started to pay off, said Hines--who suggests it is reflected in a 48% decrease in bicycle and pedestrian accidents among Los Angeles school students since 1986.

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“She runs a very fine program, one that is excellently thought-out and vigorously presented,” said Bob Ranck, traffic safety education coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified district.

And the presentations are well received by children, said Richard Lioy, principal of Beachy Avenue Elementary School in Arleta.

“I see more kids talking about helmets and wearing them afterward,” said Lioy, who added that Safe Moves also helped get crosswalks repainted in front of his campus.

Back at the Carson Library parking lot obstacle course, children’s eyes were certainly being opened to danger.

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Instructor Gary Poe taught Tracey Rockette, 12, of Long Beach, how to use her bike to shield herself from a cutout of a huge snarling bulldog.

Instructor Cindi Staiger told Anna Meneses, 10, of Torrance, the tell-tale signs of a car preparing to back out of a driveway as she paused in front of a plywood house. Staiger also urged her to look out for doors opening on parked cars.

“I hit a door that opened in front of me. I flew 20 feet and landed on my head and tore up my shoulder and broke a couple of teeth,” said Staiger, a long-distance bicyclist. “If I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Anna tugged on her helmet strap, making certain it was tight.

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Said Staiger: “The kids listen when I tell that story.”


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