Bike track teaches Oceano students the rules of the road

It was organized chaos on the Oceano Elementary School blacktop Thursday, as the school held a bike rodeo to celebrate its newly installed bike safety track.

Dozens of students whizzed past on their brightly colored bicycles, slowing every now and again to turn or to swivel between halved tennis balls placed on the ground (meant to simulate speed bumps). Others swooped through a one-way roundabout, carefully avoiding their fellow bicyclists as they entered the circle. In the center, the kids lined up at stop signs, waiting patiently for their turn to enter the course again.

Sixth-grade teacher Jim DeCecco — the inspiration behind the new course — supervised the entire affair from the sidelines.

“You’ll see that all — well most — of them are staying to the right, and not riding on the left, and we’ve gone over that,” he said as he motioned toward the track. “They’ll know that nobody is looking for you if you are on the wrong side of the road. They are always looking for you on the right side. That’s one of the things that we teach.”

DeCecco said he came up with the idea for the course while on a trip to Europe to visit Paris and Copenhagen.

“We were at a park, and I saw something sort of like this, a little cycle course,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey that’s really cool,’ and then I took a couple of pictures and sent it to the principal on my vacation and said, ‘We could do something like this.’ By the time I got home, he told me he had already contacted facilities and that we could make this happen. Nothing ever happens that quick in government, so that was a testament to the amazing, amazing principal we have.”

DeCecco and Oceano Principal Ron Walton contacted San Luis Obispo City Councilman Dan Rivoire — also the executive director of Bike SLO County — and Sara Sanders from San Luis Obispo Council of Governments’ Safe Routes to School Program to design a track for the school.

“We’ve worked with Jim for years, and we were really excited to be able to take an idea that he witnessed in Europe, this type of street-striping on the blacktop of school grounds, and help him map out the route a little bit and design it so that it is like real streets, so kids can learn how to ride on real streets here on the blacktop away from cars,” Rivoire said. “(Bike SLO County) has helped a lot with Oceano because we’ve had Mr. DeCecco here, who is a big leader in teaching bike safety and getting the kids riding more and more.”

The course, which is painted in white and green paint on the blacktop next to the school’s basketball courts, includes speed bumps, one-way stretches, roundabouts, four-way intersections and the corresponding traffic signs. It was completed in October and has been used for the past month in P.E. classes to teach bike safety, DeCecco said.

It also has the added bonus of preparing students for when they start driving, he said.

“I’ve had students who go, you know, ‘Why do we have to do this?’ ” DeCecco said. “I tell them, ‘You may never ride a bike — and some of them don’t know how to ride a bike — but all of you are going to probably drive at some point in time, so being aware of the rules of the road makes a big difference. So when you get in a car, you’ll know there’s other people on the road besides you in your car.’ ”

So far, the track has been a perfect fit for Oceano Elementary School, where bike-

friendly activities are relatively common, DeCecco said.

“Oceano does a really nice job of this sort of activity,” he said. “We’re probably the premiere on the Central Coast. I would challenge any other school to do what we do, as far as monthly bike-to-school days, instruction during P.E., bike rodeos. We have a bike posse that meets after school ... where we ride to Arroyo Grande and back for ice cream.

“Students in my class have to take a bike license test. They get a license at the end of the year after they take a written test, just like a drivers’ test. They’ll be out here this year trying to pass that test as well. And then we actually go ahead and teach them about bike mechanics — how to pump up their tires and that sort of thing. We have kids cleaning bikes and oiling chains.

“It’s just another one of those philosophies we have here in Oceano,” he said.