WESTFIELD, NJ — A rise in youth bicycling during the pandemic has prompted a local effort to boost cycling safety through positive reinforcement.

The campaign will have designated local youths rewarding young bicyclists with coupons for free pizza, slushies, bagels and the chance to win a bicycle if they are “caught” wearing a helmet during the first week of August, the program's organizers said.

“There are a lot of kids who are out there riding bikes because of the pandemic,” said Councilman Michael Dardia, chairman of the local government's public safety committee. “Number one they’re not all riding safely, and they’re not all riding with helmets, so we thought about how we could improve this and encourage kids to wear helmets?”

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Murray Topilow, 14, a rising freshman at Westfield High School, is among the youth leaders of the unit that will be patrolling and issuing coupons to the young bicyclists as a reward for wearing their helmets.

“We didn’t want to be negative about it,” Topilow said. “We wanted to keep things positive.”

Topilow said 15 of his classmates have expressed interest in volunteering to go on the patrols during what Westfield is calling “Bike Week.” Organizers intend to also release of a series of bicycle safety videos during the Bike Week, he said.

“We’re going to try for the week to put a safety video out each day about what you can do to be safe on a bike,” Topilow said.

Local businesses including Outta Hand Pizza, the Amoco gas station on Central Avenue, Manhattan Bagel and Jay’s Cycle Center have volunteered the prizes for the initiative, Dardia said. To be entered for a chance to win a bicycle valued at $500, those youths “caught” wearing a helmet would post to social media with a photo and a unique hashtag indicating they had been rewarded, he said.

Jay’s Cycle Center will be providing a Marlin 5 Trek bicycle with disk brakes, said John Constantelos, a back-end manager at the shop in Westfield.

“We want to promote safety,” Constantelos said. “We want everyone to have the gear to be safe on the road and to be seen.”

The effort to reward bicyclists wearing helmets, Dardia said, is part of a multi-pronged approach that will also have police officers issuing helmets to youths they find are not wearing them while riding.

Under New Jersey law, youths under 17 must wear helmets; if they do not, their parents may face fines. So what's an officer to do if they find a youngster riding without a helmet? 

“What’d they’d like to do is say 'here’s a free helmet,'” Dardia said. “Then they’re going to fit the helmet right on the spot.” 

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh

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