Bicycle industry lobbyists and populist cycling advocates are marketing an “all ages” vision of cycling to the American public. Consider this photo, which appeared in a Streetsblog post promoting “equity”.
The facility shown is a two-way sidepath alongside Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, New York.
Does “equity” consist of adult bicyclists’ having to take care and slow way down for children on small bicycles with training wheels? We love our children, but on the other hand, the path was not crowded in the photos, and so it doesn’t draw attention to that problem. This is a two-way path, too narrow for safe overtaking in both directions at once.
It could be asked whether it’s fair to ask motorists to slow down because bicyclists are using streets…but then bicyclists using the street may have chosen it to avoid a path crowded with little children, or otherwise not safe at the speed they travel, indirect, doesn’t go where they want to go — not suitable. The right of bicyclists to use the streets is fairly well established in the USA, though with some disturbing limitations, and is of of crucial importance in a this very large country which, unlike the Netherlands, is not table flat over much of its extent, with raised flood barriers between farmers’ fields, ideal for siting pathways.
Here’s another example, from a presentation by Cambridge, Massachusetts bicycle coordinator Cara Seiderman:
Seiderman’s PowerPoint slide conflates several issues. Little children are unpredictable and unsafe, whether on streets or on paths. The elderly woman is likely to be predictable and cautious — she isn’t going to dart out as another cyclist is overtaking. But nobody is wearing a helmet. One of the little girls has a front basket that looks as though it is about to fall off. The elderly lady is wearing black ninja clothing, riding a black bicycle with a black basket.
What does cycling look like when children set the pace? Here is a video showing a school run in a new housing development in Assen, in the Netherlands:
and an older video of the same run:
I suspect that in Dutch cities, as in big cities anywhere, parents are concerned about allowing their children to travel independently. There are other hazards besides traffic hazards: fixed-object hazards, crime, just getting lost. I don’t see children riding on the Amsterdam streets in Andy Cline’s video, linked from his blog here.
The cycling I see in the Assen videos, shot in a new housing development, is similar to how casual and child cyclists ride on crowded shared-use paths in the USA. Small children, and the frequent risk of collision, set the pace at times. The cycling shown is faster than walking but provides not only less exercise per mile, also less exercise per minute!
It would be nice if suburbs in the USA were designed from the ground up so bicyclists and pedestrians had pleasant, direct routes, and children could get around without traveling on busy streets. Some suburbs are: but in most cases we have to build on what we have. I’ve discussed this issue before and made what I think are some practical suggestions.