Eye-popping realities – pedalling with kids

This post was originally published in 2015 here, but we think it is very relevant to #city4kids. It introduces a book that was written 30 years ago. The findings are still important to this day if we want a city with that kind of urban design and planning that values the next generation now growing up.

It’s not for the first time, and I have a feeling it will neither be for the last, that I heard a mother describe the following to me: “I cycle along with my 10-year old on Percy Street (relatively busy city centre road), when a driver shouts at me to ‘get off the road and start caring for my child’ – I will of course keep cycling, but that says more about my rebellious nature and sense of independence, than any biking bliss and enjoyment we ought to experience”. The short-term/fast-thinking versus long-term/slow-thinking divide is evident.

Rachel Aldred (2015) describes in her paper entitled “Adults’ attitude towards child cycling: a study of the impact of infrastructure” [pdf], and I paraphrase: when confronted with the thought of cycling with kids even the “hard-nosed” desensitised ‘committed cyclist’ reacts with sudden caution and much wider consideration – their thoughts are near-perfectly aligned with the general population’s view on what comfortable and convenient cycle infrastructure looks like.

Yet here is the reality again, demonstrated by this short video made by Sally Watson, a mother of two in Newcastle, filming the trip home from school with her 7-year old. The anguish, required skill and necessary attention levels are clear to see. All this makes the short trip look and feel quite adventurous, rather uncomfortable in places and certainly not convenient. Sally has interjected some commentary in her video at a much lesser frequency of me whincing about our insane roads and the inappropriately pressurised position pedal parents are put in.

For anyone who wonders whether this is new territory or untrodden terrain, I can confirm that it isn’t. The book ‘One False Move’ [pdf] deals with the issue of the school commute and (what the UK calls) road safety… in 1992. It draws devastating conclusions about the then-current approach – sounding quite current still in 2015 (see photo insert below for its ‘heart-hitting’ backcover). Maybe a follow-up study, if conducted, would show that very little, if any, progress has been made since. UPDATE 1 June 2015 – There actually was a follow-up study. You can read it here [pdf]

It seems to me, that UK road safety is as insanely exclusive to walking and cycling now, as it was then in 1992.

We need to learn to see the road through our kids’ eyes and design them through their eyes.