Thinking Out Loud

Many moons ago, before The Wiggles and Yo Gabba Gabba became the mainstays of my family’s playlist, Public Radio was our go-to station for diverse, thought provoking and often humorous programming. Oregon Public Radio show Think Out Loud ran a show last month about biking in non-urban areas. City cyclists receive much attention in terms of safety, infrastructure and funding but developing safe roads for cyclists in non-urban areas is a relatively novel concept. TOL asked me a few questions about our experience competing for road space in rural washington. You can check out the entire broadcast here. My segment only lasted a couple of minutes but it was a fun to touch on these issues from a family perspective.

Recording the broadcast itself was exciting. My twelve year old son had babysitting duty while I ran to the garage for quiet. Live radio doesn’t yield much forgiveness for a wailing “Momeeeeeeee”. Worrying about the children interrupting or burning down the house did wonders for my nerves, in general, as I didn’t really have much time to worry about what I was going to say. As short as my segment was it got me thinking about family biking, the concept of the weakest link and grassroots advocacy.

For us, as a car-free family biking is much more than recreation or a hobby. It’s about function and practicality. Getting groceries, getting to school and meeting our transportation needs without turning a key. As a result we are exposed, to the elements, the public and most critically to a constant stream of 2,000 plus pound vehicles zooming by next to our children. Our town has a lovely multi-use trail for recreation however there is no infrastructure to connect us to stores and services. As a result we are forced on sidewalks, across grassy/ muddy areas where there is no shoulder and in some places into the streets.

The idea of building streets and communities to service pedestrians and cyclists seems like a no-brainer. A hundred years ago the auto was viewed as a dangerous intruder to streets in which pedestrians, bikes, women, men, children were the dominant force. In our “modern” culture cyclists and pedestrians are fighting for safe ways to commute.

While I believe cycling to be one of the safest and most affordable means of transportation; we bike defensively. With my twelve year old on two wheels and five year old and one year sheltered only by a fabric and aluminum frame trailer it’s not enough to assume a motorist will stop or check the bike lane before turning. I take full responsibility for the failure of motorists to stop, yield or give enough room. I have to assume that every car is playing a deadly game of Russian roulette and keep the barrel aimed away from my family.

Buffered bike lanes and infrastructure certainly offer some measure of protection but they must be built with the smallest, or most vulnerable user in mind. The wheelchair, the stroller, the child are the weakest links. If our streets fail them. They have failed entirely. One casualty is too many.

I believe the path to change is going to be cut by a change in consciousness. It was not until my family got on bikes that my scope of vision widened. Now I notice cyclists and pedestrians. I pay attention to legislation and bicycle advocacy. I seek opportunities to encourage and educate everyone and anyone about the freedom and possibilities that using a bike as transportation offers.

There is no overestimating the strength of families, mothers and fathers for providing and protecting their children. As more families and individuals experience the myriad of wonderful benefits of biking, their consciousness will expand too. Collectively we can raise awareness, be a force for change and build a better future.

What do you think? How can cyclists and family cyclists protect themselves? What are the solutions to keeping families and individuals safe while commuting? Are cities inherently more safe because of biking infrastructure ie: bike lanes, sharrows etc?

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