Bring the Kids – Part I

19 Jun

It’s best to try cycling with your child after her or his neck is strong enough to hold up that cute head plus helmet — usually after the first birthday.

There’s more to say about bicycling with kids than will fit in one post of tolerable length, so this will be an introduction.  I’ve posted previously about Safe Routes to School and the incredible decline in the number of children who bike or walk to school over the last 40 years.  But there’s also the issue of cycling with the littler ones in the city.  If people have safety concerns about themselves and older kids, I can only assume that many would find it irresponsible to ride with a small child anywhere but on an off-road trail.  There are interesting and in many ways quite distorted ideas about safety in this country that I’ll touch on below but get into more deeply in a later post.  For now I’ll share a bit about my own situation to start off the discussion.

I live on the north side of Richmond just north of Laburnum Avenue, and when I’m able to, I take my 3 year-old son to daycare in Jackson Ward by bike.  It’s about 3.5 miles and takes about 20-30 minutes, depending on how many stops we make along the way to check out something — like I-95 bridge repair, building demolition, or something else fun.  I stick to residential streets as much as I can, but can’t avoid Brookland Park Boulevard and Brook Road for part of the trip.  Brook has some fairly fast traffic depending on the time of day, but a very wide right lane with not many parked cars (perfect place for a future bike lane!).

Am I totally nuts to ride with him in such places?  If you’re inclined to think so, consider this.  When given the choice he always opts for the bike over the car, and I think the reason boils down to this: he gets to interact with his surroundings and with me in ways that he would not be able to in the car.  He asks to ride down the bumpy cobble-stone street near his daycare and then we both listen to our rumbling voices as we roll over it; he asks to stop and watch the jackhammers rattling away under the highway; he waves at pedestrians as we pass by; he feels the wind in his face.

Biking is one of the best things we do together, and it certainly is the best way for us to get somewhere together.  Is it perfectly safe?  No.  But neither is transporting a child in a car, no matter how big it is.  In fact, driving big cars on big roads tends to give people an exaggerated sense of safety that makes it more dangerous for everyone.  More on this later.

The best discussion of the safety issue I’ve found is at totcycle.com, written by a father and pediatrician who bikes with his kids all around Seattle and beyond.  He also has a great guide to bike seats and other options for kids of various ages.

This is not to downplay the need for really good cycling infrastructure to help encourage a sense of safety and make cycling safer.  If we can put infrastructure in place (that includes measures to slow traffic down) where parents feel comfortable getting around with their kids on bicycles, then we’ll know we’ve really made it as a bicycle-friendly city.  To my mind that will involve more than installing bike lanes, although that’s a good start.  It will involve creating more “complete streets” that give priority to pedestrian and cyclist safety and comfort.

In the meantime, if you’re considering cycling with a little one and are not ready for busier roads, try to find a route using residential streets to get to school, playground, local coffee house, or wherever.  And consider working with your school to get a Safe Routes to School grant (assuming it does not get nixed from the federal transportation bill), which can be spent for a wide range of measures to make walking or biking to school safer.

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3 Responses to “Bring the Kids – Part I”

  1. Ron Corio June 19, 2012 at 5:20 PM #

    I loved reading the description of you and Kai riding to school on a bike. Ron

    • Amy George July 6, 2012 at 12:33 PM #

      I volunteer at an urban school with all kids less than a mile away. Most kids are bused in. There is no bike parking, kids say they don’t know how to repair flat tires, and nobody has locks. In addition there is not any bike/traffic safety education in gym class. Seems like there are at least 4 ways right there

      • bikeablerichmond July 7, 2012 at 7:00 PM #

        Indeed. Maybe we can work toward organizing instruction focused on these things at local schools, and maybe using the new road skills area on Belle Isle when it’s ready.

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