Eye-popping realities – pedalling with kids

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.

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.


UPDATE 1 June 2015 – There actually was a follow-up study. You can read it here [pdf]


3 thoughts on “Eye-popping realities – pedalling with kids

  1. So sad that we’ve come to such a situation where in a time of peace and people being more civilized than they ever have been, people are told to be afraid of dangers.

    And of course Yehuda Moon has something on any topic:


  2. Sadly in the Anglophone world, child casualties are considered to be acceptable collateral damage as part of the motoring economy, and the Taliban approach to road safety is deeply embedded.

    It is highly notable that the majority of cycle campaigns, concentrate on the “rights” of adults to cycle in a vehicular manor. There hasn’t been an English language version of the Stop de Kindermoord campaign, the question is why?


  3. The “Child Effect” is an interesting one. When someone tells me that an existing cycle facility is “perfectly adequate” then I ask them if they’d let their children use it to cycle to school. This is usually met with spluttering, as if it’s a ridiculous question and such a thing is completely unthinkable.
    Meanwhile, not so very far away, the average Dutch child cycles to school independently at age 8.

    I’m lucky that I live in a small village where my five year old daughter can pedal to school (“illegally”) on foot paths and no one really minds.
    I’ve started to encourage to use the road at a couple of points where it is very quiet, and on the approach road to school where there is no room on the path due to cars half-parked on it.
    Needless to say I detect horrified stares and quiet tutting from the other parents. The road, even on the dead-end back streets of a quiet village with a 20mph limit, is an absolute No-Go area for their kids and encouraging my child to cycle on it is clearly reckless endangerment.
    We have a long way to go!


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