Ron Effland has worked for the Missouri Department of Transportation for over 25 years. In that time, his job roles have evolved and he has helped to spur an important evolution in the way the department thinks about transportation.
Trained as a civil engineer, Ron initially ran a district engineering department. After passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, his focus shifted to designing intersections that would allow for safe crossing by individuals with disabilities. For the last five years, Ron has served as the state’s “Non-Motorized Transportation Engineer,” or as Ron refers to himself, the “state bike-ped coordinator.” These state positions, created by the Federal Department of Transportation, are intended to serve as internal advocates for the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists.
Ron’s job involves writing statewide policies and procedures related to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, but more importantly, efforts to change the culture of transportation from one that has traditionally been exclusively about cars. Ron acknowledges that state transportation departments are not always enthusiastic about including bicyclists and pedestrians as a part of their responsibility.
“Somewhere along the way, transportation departments forgot to include people,” Ron said. “Our job is to give people options for how to get from place to place. If we are working on improvements to a downtown intersection, we have to realize that people might be in a car, but they could also be on foot, on a bike, in a wheelchair, or using public transit. We have to think about how the bus stop interacts with the crosswalk that interacts with the traffic signals. The challenge is to keep our eye on the big picture.”
One of the challenges Ron has faced is that transportation engineers often have a difficult time seeing important clues in that big picture.
“If you have a lot of traffic backups and delays and crashes, engineers understand that,” Ron said. “If you have a road with no sidewalk and there is a worn path in the grass next to the road, that means that there are pedestrians who have no safe place to walk and we should put a sidewalk there.”
Although Ron spends much of his time in offices in Springfield and Jefferson City, he also does a lot of outreach, some of his most creative and enjoyable work. To help his engineers understand the challenges of navigating with a disability, Ron procured a collection of wheelchairs and white canes.
“I take engineers out in the field and have them cross streets in a wheelchair or use a cane to feel their way along,” Ron said. “It really changes their perspective on what it is like to try and get around while dealing with a disability.”
To further his efforts on behalf of bicyclists, Ron applied for a grant several years ago to create his “Walk ‘n Roll” trailer. The twenty-four-foot trailer is filled with bikes of various sizes, parts, tools, helmets, cones and yield and stop signs. He uses the trailer in much the same way that he uses the wheelchairs.
“I put traffic engineers on bikes and show them what it’s like to negotiate roads and intersections on a bicycle,” Ron Said.
Ron recalls his personal experiences with bicycles while growing up: “I’ve been riding a bike forever. In the small town where I grew up that is how kids got around.” To share that experience with other children, Ron frequently takes his trailer on the road to provide biking opportunities and bike education for kids around the state.
For the last few years, Trailnet has worked with a number of St. Louis County elementary schools to put on Bike Weeks. These events provide opportunities for children to learn about bike handling skills, rules of the road, and proper fitting of bike helmets. Ron has been a valuable partner, contributing helmets, loaner bikes, and his skills as an educator.
“There is just nothing like seeing a kid’s face light up when you put them on a bicycle…and the great pride that they feel if they can get rid of their training wheels,” Ron said.
In October, Trailnet sponsored the first ever Bike Week at Froebel Literacy Academy in Dutchtown. With Ron’s help and his fleet of bicycles, over two hundred students received bike helmets and got a chance to practice biking through an obstacle course or to do some free riding around the playground.
Froebel’s Family and Community Specialist Von Smith said, “It was a great experience for our students to be able to ride ‘with the wind’ and receive a cool helmet for participating!” Many of the students asked if Trailnet would be coming back again the following week.
“At each turn there are three signs – a warning sign, a sign at the turn, and a confirmation after the turn,” Ron explained. “Every 10 miles you’ll also see a sign along the route. So as you go across the state, you don’t even need a map, although Bike Route 76 is printed on the back of our MoDOT maps now.”
We at Trailnet are grateful to have a strong voice at the state level looking out for the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists. For his part, Ron realizes the important role that groups like Trailnet play: “I’ve developed partnerships with all of the local advocacy organizations. My hope is that we can all work together to decide on what goals are most important and join forces to accomplish those goals.” Ron welcomes your input. If you have ideas, questions, suggestions or concerns that you would like to share, e-mail Ron at firstname.lastname@example.org
League Cycling Instructors Certified at Trailnet
Among the many ways that the League of American Bicyclists advocates for bike safety is their training of League Cycling Instructors. These instructors are certified to teach Smart Cycling classes to both children and adults, with the goal of helping people feel more secure on their bikes, and to ensure that bicyclists know how to ride safely and legally.
In mid-October, Trailnet hosted League Cycling coach Preston Tyree and twelve candidates at a League Cycling Instructor Seminar. The seminar provided three days of intensive training that included both classroom instruction and on-bike skills development. All of the candidates were experienced bicyclists. The seminar provided them with techniques that they will use to share their knowledge with less-seasoned bicyclists. Most of the seminar participants were St. Louis residents, and it is Trailnet’s hope that these instructors will provide grassroots instruction in their communities to help bicyclists improve their skills and confidence levels.
All of the seminar participants were evaluated by Coach Tyree and local League Cycling Instructors. Each participant made several classroom presentations, and was also evaluated for their competence at performing on-bike handling skills and safely negotiating traffic.
Candidates plan on using their certification in a variety of ways. Some wanted to become certified in order to help their communities or workplaces to attain Bicycle Friendly status. Some were already working with youth or adults and hope to broaden their capacity to help other bicyclists. All of the candidates shared a passion for bicycling and a desire to spread their enthusiasm.
Trailnet thanks Kaemmerlen Electric for providing us with a parking lot on which to practice bike handling skills, Papa John’s for donation of pizza, and The Fountain on Locust for welcoming twenty hungry cyclists with indoor bike parking and a fantastic lunch. Special thanks to Great Rivers Greenway for funding the seminar and to Ariell Heacox and Preston Tyree of The Bike League for their support and excellent coaching. Finally, congratulations to all twelve of the candidates who successfully completed their certification. We appreciate your hard work and dedication and know that you will be valuable resources for other bicyclists in your communities.
Hitting the Trail – St. Louis Torchbearers Camp Sun Splash
Camp Sun Splash kids arrived at Fairground Park on a sunny July morning to find racks filled with bicycles waiting for eager riders. Each of the 39 campers were fitted with a bike helmet, and received a primer on bike safety. The smooth, level bike trail that circles the park lake was a perfect place for the novice riders to try out their bike handling skills.
Two days later, Trailnet met the group at the Whistle Stop Depot in Ferguson for an introduction to Great Rivers Greenway’s extensive trail system. Donning their helmets and safety vests, the riders wound their way through Ferguson’s business district to the start of the Ted Jones Trail. As they pedaled along the quiet, shady trail, the kids pointed out the many feathered residents of the woods lining the path. The group continued onto the St. Vincent Greenway, making their way through the gentle hills of UMSL’s campus to St. Vincent County Park where they enjoyed cooling off at the water park.
The sun was shining and spirits were high as parents got to see their kids ride their bikes safely and confidently. The Bike Walk Kirkwood Neighborhood Tour, made possible by Great Rivers Greenway, was an opportunity for the students of Keysor Elementary to show off their new skills, having just finished their annual Bike Week festivities.
Trailnet has participated in Bike Week for three years, helping to teach bike safety to students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Our own Ginny McDonald and Rachel Sleeman spent the week with the kids, covering everything from helmet fit, to measuring tire pressure, to rules of the road. Ron Effland, from Missouri’s Dept. of Transportation, brought his “Walk and Roll” trailer filled with extra bikes, helmets, tools, and traffic signs. Kirkwood Police Bicycle Officers Ann, T.J., and Joe also worked with the kids, helping them to master bike handling skills. The entire week’s events were coordinated by Robin Ehrlich, Keysor’s Physical Education teacher, assisted by fellow teacher Drew Widamen.
The kids’ enthusiasm about Bike Week was shown by their smiles, laughter, and comments overheard during the week. One second grader declared one day midweek “the BEST day of my life!” Another student, hearing the whistle that ended his bike riding, wished that he “could do this all day.” Kids were obviously proud of their accomplishments, one overheard saying that she had “just passed an adult” on her bike. They were also encouraging to those who, for the first time that week, rode without training wheels. Thanks to the efforts of Ron and the bike officers, over a dozen kids shed their training wheels during Bike Week. This milestone was greeted with high fives and cheers from their classmates.
It was apparent during the Bike Walk Kirkwood Neighborhood Tour that the kids took away a lot from the Bike Week curriculum; they handled the ride like pros, and made their parents proud. Many thanks to Keysor Elementary for inviting Trailnet to participate in Bike Week and for helping to make bicycling such a visible part of the Kirkwood community.
We also discussed Trailnet’s Bike Walk Master Plan for Kirkwood, currently in the works. The plan was available for parents to peruse, as well as a sign-up sheet to join the mailing list for updates. If you are a Kirkwood resident and are interested in learning more about the Plan, contact Marielle Brown at email@example.com
Do bicyclists have to wear helmets in the state of Missouri?
While there is no Missouri state law requiring bicycle helmets, many St. Louis municipalities including St. Louis County require cyclists under the age of 16 to wear a helmet. Trailnet recommends that all bicyclists wear a helmet while riding.
Does Trailnet teach kids how to ride a bike?
As much as we would like to give individualized support to people of any age new to riding a bicycle, we do not have dedicated staff to handle these requests.
Trailnet offers BikeSmart classes, geared for riders of all levels ages 13 and up, designed to build confidence and get anyone ready to ride more often. Classes are led by a League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructor.
At what age should my child be allowed to bike on the road?
Generally a child should be at least 10 years old before being allowed to ride in the street, especially without parental supervision. However you should never allow your child to ride on the road without going over the basic bicycle skills together and assessing your child’s ability to react thoughtfully to vehicular traffic.
What are the basic bicycle rules I should teach my child?