By Jonathon Krall
Last summer, Kidical Mass Alexandria held its first bicycle ride, encouraging families to take to streets and bike paths for fun, transportation, and exercise. The national Safe Routes to School program and the upcoming Bike to School Day (May 6) also encourage families to ride. As these programs reach out, parents are responding.
“Kidical Mass” refers to monthly Critical Mass rides that take control of streets in cities around the world, including Washington, DC. While Critical Mass asserts the right of cyclists to safer streets through the strength of numbers, Kidical Mass focuses on fun, working within the law, and helping families get active. Natasha Andersen, a leader of Kidical Mass Alexandria, told me via email that it is easier to get started when children can ride in a trailer. "[T]he biggest hurdle for us has been the transition from trailer to bike... [B]uilding up the skill set and confidence level to hit the streets has been hard... My daughter is getting there, but honestly she needs to learn to pay attention to her surroundings.” Writing on the Washington Area Bicycle Forum, “peterw_diy” of Alexandria is optimistic. “Whether I have my 4 [year-old] on the back of the longtail or my 7 [year-old] riding solo in my wake, people driving cars around my part of NoVA seem supportive and cautiously deferential to us.”
Unfortunately, parents can encounter social pressure to conform. “peterw_diy” cites concerns about allowing his 7 year-old to “bike 3 blocks of quiet neighborhood streets to the playground without somebody calling CPS." Four years ago, Cynthia Palmer of Arlington was forced to give up her two-child trailer when "I was told by a divorce judge that no suburban mom can get custody without a car. I was mocked by the custody evaluator for pulling the kids around.”
Community leaders are acting to support Alexandria families. Jim Durham, Chair of Alexandria BPAC, wants biking and walking to be part of school system planning. According to Durham, “the degree to which the school provides strong encouragement and education will make a difference in the numbers of students who walk and bike, and in the academic performance of those students.”
The degree to which ACPS integrates these ideas into its new Strategic Plan remains to be seen. Durham is asking ACPS to measure and report both the transportation budget and the number of children walking, biking, taking a school bus, or arriving by car. Fewer children on the bus saves money and fewer children arriving by car keeps all children safer.
Chris Shue, of McLean, says biking has been great for his children because “it has made them way more free range... They really started going on rides with me when they were 11... I regret not getting them out earlier.”
According to the League of American Bicyclists, 80% of US citizens are or will be a parent. Many parents feel challenged by unsafe or incomplete bicycling networks. When bike lanes on busy streets end, cyclists are sometimes directed towards “shared lanes,” regular travel lanes painted with bicycle symbols. In Alexandria, these makings appear on Braddock Road, Commonwealth Avenue, and King Street. Would you like your child to share a “shared lane” with people driving on these streets?
Nevertheless, many parents prefer family biking over driving. Gillian Burgess, a leader of Kidical Mass Arlington, says “it's actually easier than the car (where do you park? how do you deal with toddlers in the parking lot?).” Jon Renaut of Washington, DC, was attracted by “low-traffic bike- friendly routes and free bike parking.”
Now that spring is in the air, Andersen is organizing bike rides for the Alexandria Earth Day celebration on April 25. Kidical Mass rides are in planning. A typical ride is 3 miles, but that should not deter newcomers. According to “APKhaos” of McClean, “My twins were 5 last summer... After some local riding to build confidence, [we] tried the C & O towpath... [Next] they wanted to go for a BIG ride... We rode 19.1 miles out and return, and the twins flat out loved the adventure. Don't underestimate what younger kids can do."
Crossposted at AlexandriaNews