What We Need: Lifeboat Rule #1
Lifeboat rule needs to be invoked: Women and Children First (from 1860). We can modernize this to Parent & Children First and then the grocery stores. I just returned from a Holland vacation in September 2014. I was struck at how different it was and I admit I am not so sure it is reproducible here in Portland, Oregon as much as I have been 'hawking' that we should emulate European bicycling. We bicycled from Bruges, Belgium to Amsterdam up the North Sea coast line but catching Ghent, Delft, Leiden and many other towns along the incredible segregated bike lanes that simply connect everything. We are seasoned bicyclists, having biked from NYC to Illinois in 1973; across the USA in 1982; across England, Honduras, El Salvador, & many cities in the USA over the decades. What struck me was that Americans have a missing childhood developmental episode of being an infant, a toddler, a child on a bike before they get on a bike independently.
And even though our new little Americans are propped up in a baby trailer or behind the rider's seat, they still miss what Belgium & Holland kids learn.
The difference is in plain sight: the child is up front on the handle bars or on a cross bar. So? When the bicyclist pair enter the traffic pattern, the child bobs and weaves and tilts with the parent. The kid gets imprinted with confrontations on the bike, slow-downs for intersections, people passing, people stopping, all that stuff that experienced riders know after years of riding. The kid gets two big messages: Anticipation and Courtesy. The smoothness of moving so many people in all the cities we bicycled was so demonstrable; I am not sure I have seen this on our busiest Portland street: NE Williams. Narcissism comes to mind as the most expressed trait here. I came back even more entrenched that we need to build each and every bike arterial with parents and children in mind.
But we need to get beyond this family only language and really say every person should be safe and to be invited without reservation to bicycle to their nearest grocery store. This will change the world as we have seen in Europe. Make it safe for a parent & child and others will follow.
I almost want to say this couplet of parent and child are an indicator species that tells of the road safety. This will also teach a whole generation how to bicycle with two important skills: anticipation and courtesy. I think another difference between us and them is what we think of the bicycle. In America the most common question when we travel is 'how far can you go?' In Europe, we were generally asked, 'Where have you been? ' This sociological difference meant to me that we Americans are focused on a quantification of existence rather than on a Quality of Life. And can you imagine a highway engineer saying this new street invites more people to get to home or the grocery store? I can, but we need to teach the engineers and mid transportation managers about segregated lanes, but at the same time they learn the lifeboat rule: 'parents and children first, then the grocery store!' Did I mention:
Quality of Life?