When a child rides alone: A test of our kids and our streets – by Jonathan Maus

The following is an excerpt from a blog post by Jonathan Maus, publisher and editor of BikePortland.org

This is a particularly important article for those who are parents or a guardian of children who are transition from being dependent on adults for transportation to solo traveling by bike, whether to friends, school or activities away from home. Are you ready, is your child prepared, are your neighborhood streets bicycle-friendly?

On her own: Would our streets — and my daughter — pass the
solo biking test? (Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

I recently — and surreptitiously — followed my daughter Eleni as she rode home from soccer practice by herself. She’s almost 11 years old now and we’ve just recently started to let her do this. I followed her because I was curious to know how she would ride without me or her mom offering that perception of protection that our proximity provides.

If you have children (or even if you don’t), I’m sure you can relate to the mix of emotions that occur when you allow your own flesh and blood to become a full-fledged “vulnerable” road user. I was also curious if our neighborhood streets would live up to their reputation as “family friendly.”

We’ve been riding with Eleni ever since she was baby. She’s gone from a Burley trailer, to a rear-rack seat, to a tag-along, to her own bike all without much incident (besides a self-inflicted fall or two). Along the way I’ve always shared my tips, advice, and admonitions whenever we ride together: “Remember to always look and listen at intersections, whether you have a stop sign or not!”; “Never assume a car will stop for you!”; “Use your hand signals!”; “Watch for those car doors!” and so on and so forth.

With Eleni, I can never tell if I’m bugging her or if she’s actually absorbing the information. I figured secretly following her home was the perfect way to see if she’s been paying attention all these years.

When her practice ended, she mounted her bike (with her shin guards and soccer cleats still on). I was anxious as she rolled eastward from Arbor Lodge Park in north Portland. The first thing I noticed is that she was riding a bit too close to the curb (see lead photo). Then, her first stop-sign controlled intersection came up. It was a four-way stop, so I wasn’t too worried; but I still breathed a sigh of relief when she calmly came to a stop, looked both ways, looked both ways again, and then continued on… To read the full article, click here.

Jonathan Maus is the publisher and editor of BikePortland.org

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