Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Advocacy

I started bike commuting because as a member of a one-car family, I needed a way to get from one place to another without buying another car. I wasn't looking to become a bike activist or advocate in any way. As my family started to ride together, we learned what works with biking in our community and what makes cycling here tough. Who doesn't want to make tough things in one's life a bit easier? However, taking on any such formal role of bike advocate just seemed too daunting with three young fellows and a full-time job. And there are simply logistics that don't work right now: the local community's formal bike advocacy group meets at a time I need to be home to feed my boys; the monthly Critical Mass rides also don't fit our schedule, etc. So I stayed content talking with folks whenever people asked about our bikes or riding with kids. I invited friends to join us on bike rides. I kept an eye out for bike events in which we could participate, a few Bike to Work breakfasts, a fun group ride here and there. But truthfully, I saw my truest act of bike advocacy as simply riding, riding nearly every day, riding with my kids, being out there and visible. I still think that.

But I can feel the urges, the whisperings that I must do more. I must contribute to making my community a place where more parents feel comfortable riding with their children. Where someone contemplates leaving her car parked for the day and rides downtown to the library and knows this is a valid and safe option. Where two friends might go out for the night just using pedal power to get them where they want to go.

And I must do more because my family now faces a dilemma.

We have three sons and two cargo bikes. We bike far more than we drive. We bike to school, to work, to music lessons, to camp, to church, to the farmer's market, to playgrounds, to friends' homes, etc. Both my husband and I have grown quite comfortable biking throughout our city with our kids in/on our bikes. But now-- our oldest two are about to turn eight. And they have grown. And the truth is, they are busting out of the cargo box on our Bakfiets. Yes, they are quite good cyclists on their own, comfortable riding their two-wheelers, happy to do so for some distance. However, we live in a city that simply does not have the infrastructure to make it safe for them to ride themselves most places. Our route to school brings us right through downtown with lots of impatient drivers racing to get to/from work and no bike lanes. We have no routes that would put us on quieter streets.

So what are we to do? Stop biking? We are not ready to do this and I fully resent the idea that we would have to give up bike commuting.

So right now, we are hoping that a new cargo bike set-up may solve this problem for us for the moment. We are sad that it is time to sell the Bakfiets, but excited about the orange Yuba Mundo that will join our family soon. How long will this extend our ability to be family bike commuters, I can't say. But I worry that my boys' growth will far outpace the changes our community needs to make it a truly bike-friendly city, a place where ten, eleven, twelve year-olds can ride to get to where they need to be going. And I know, I won't be able to haul them forever....

Do you live in a place where a young person can safely ride to school, to the library, to camp? Can kids do that in Portland, OR? In Cambridge, MA? In most suburban towns? How about rural communities? I want to learn more.

But the truth is, I don't want to move. Not now, anyway. So I need to get advocating in more formal ways.

This was a start.....

11 comments:

Jennifer said...

I was thinking of you last night when I was biking over to G's house. There are bicyclists everywhere in DC, tons of bike lanes, and bicyclists seem quite bold about co-existing with cars. I'm much more comfortable biking in traffic now since I've been doing it for a year. That being said, I'm not sure how I would feel trying to bike around DC with elementary school kids on their own bikes.

Yesterday I was in a bike lane (painted, well marked, etc) and a driver pulled in front of me to make a right hand turn and started to edge me up against a parked car. When I said "Hello" a couple of times, he finally noticed I was on his right-of course, he was on his cell phone. (argh). I pointed out that his car was in the bike lane which was totally unnecessary as he could have made the right hand turn without taking over the bike lane.

So, even though the DC govt is working hard to make it a bike friendly place,(new bike lanes in the median part of Pennsylvania Avenue for example) I think that it is an adult bike friendly place.

And sometimes, when the traffic is hairy, I take to the sidewalks and for the most part that works out ok. In DC you can ride on sidewalks everywhere except downtown.

As the boys get a bit older and bigger, I bet they will get more comfortable biking though it probably will still make you feel nervous to see them whizzing along in traffic!

Andrea said...

Tandems!! You guys need tandems! (not sure where you'd put F...I used to have a paperdoll set, The Sunshine Family, that all--blond, blue-eyed Mom, Dady, Boy, Girl, and Baby--rode on a big five-person bike...maybe you could get one of those). I've just started letting M ride his bike home from daycare by himself (.25 miles), because it's easier than trying to get 3 bikes in my car. My heart skips a beat every time he pulls onto the road.

Angela Gail said...

In my neighborhood in Cambridge, you can definitely bike to school and it's not that unusual to see kids your sons' age doing it. But certainly not every place in the Boston area is like this. I would have worries if we were having to bike around Mass Ave (a large road that cuts through Cambridge, is very busy, and has parking along the side of the road in many places).

What about Safe Routes to School (http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/) -- I wonder if they do work in your area. Our state bike advocacy organization (Mass Bike) works with them on bike training for kids, and I imagine some day in the future we'll want to get the kids lessons on bike safety and city riding.

Please keep blogging about what you end up doing! Even in the bike-friendly community I'm in I know that we'll run into issues when we hit the age that the cargo bike stops working as well, so I'm anxious to know about your strategies (both personal, and advocacy-related!)

MamaVee said...

here in newton kids do bike to school. The great thing about newton is it's neighborhood schools. Most kids live a few miles from school. Some schools prohibit biking though... Our school got a bike rack this past fall and on our one street pretty much everyone above grade 3 rides. The school says you have to be in grade three to ride alone... which I'm not too upset about as G is not ready yet. Anyway- one 3rd grader rode last fall and then this early spring the other three 3rd graders and one 4th grader and one 5th grader joined them. they loved biking and scootering to school so much they all left 20 mins early. They ride ont he sidewalk and they cross one major road at a light. Not that you want to move- but come to Newton!!! In a way newton is Ideal for biking with it's 13 villages and suburban streets.

Matt in Tacoma said...

My family is a few years behind yours (oldest starts Kindergarden this fall), but I've been asking myself these same broader bike transportation questions lately. Our Madsen and Xtracycle setups will work well enough for a few more years.

Most Tacoma schools are in neighborhoods that are within walking/biking distance for kids. There are few cul de sacs and many residential streets go through so that one can avoid the busy arterials that have little bike-specific infrastructure. However, like most places (I think), many parents still drop-off kids with cars. And if you want to leave your neighborhood for errands with kids, the terrain starts to become a factor. Tacoma is a bit hilly and there are certain places/routes which are unrideable/unwalkable for me on a fully laden bucket bike. I'm anxious to see how the Yuba replaces your box bike.

Cycling always needs louder advocates - good luck!

Julian said...

Great post ... I'm afarid I don't have answers, but glad to see you getting involved in advocacy. Nice to have parents represented there.

Gear ideas: tandem or triple, sure, or maybe a followme tandem setup (or two) for the busy streets, but detach them on tamer routes.
http://clevercycles.com/products/accessories/child-seats/followme-tandem-coupling/

Janice said...

This same story also happens with me. And now this is becoming habit. We cannot do anything.

Terra said...

Sara, this is awesome. And you are advocating in ways that you don't even know! Because of you, I bought a bike and rode to work all last summer, and have talked to countless people and become another cyclist to add to the numbers in DC. And you kids, they will never forget the adventures they are having! Keep up the good work! PS this weekend in FL we bought cheap beach cruisers and rode bikes to dinner and to our surfing lessons! :-)

Robyn said...

Ditto on the follow-me tandem. I just got one for my boys but haven't tried it yet as we are out of town. I am excited about it though.

wheelsonthebus said...

Oh, I'd buy it from you! Except that now we are buying the house that is up on a hill, and from what you've said, a bakfiets is bad on a hill.

bikescanwork.com said...

I know exactly what you're talking about. I can barely keep a blog about bikes going with two kids under two, let alone advocacy beyond the barest minimum. Even though they're still years away from school age, I've thought a lot about what the future will look like where we currently live as it relates to kids and bikes. And it's not great here, either. In a world without the kids, yes, I would dedicate the time toward building a better infrastructure and cultural shift. With the kids? It's enough to have me seriously looking into work opportunities in the Netherlands! It's very hard to visit and see just how well it all can work only to come back here and see just how many decades behind we really are...