Category Archives: bicycle safety

When We Choose Not to Go

Last week had a couple good examples of giving up, or maybe it’s giving in.

Following Columbus Day, the littlest one, Oliver, and I hung around the house, stared at the overgrown raised beds behind the garage (made a plan of attack), cleaned the dishes, folded the laundry, then headed out to pick up Avery (6yo) at school to take him to an appointment. We were going from home to school to the children’s hospital on a route we had taken a couple times. Brent met us at school and accompanied us to the hospital. Front and center, covered parking, that was in use. A sweet sight.

When we choose not to go
The behind the garage look at my spring project. Where to start? Oy vey.
When we choose not to go
Women and Children’s Hospital Bike parking.

To head home we opted for going around Delaware park, also a mostly familiar route. We stopped for playground and snack time, then carried on. We paused to take in the autumn scene over Hoyt Lake. Ok, we paused because after climbing up the hill and the spiral overpass, I needed it (also an e-assist).

MAP link from school, to hospital, to park, to home.

When we choose not to go
Unfortunately the path to the right doesn’t get me where I need to go. Buffalo has hills.
When we choose not to go
Hoyt Lake at Delaware Park. AKA my rest break.

Once home I assembled my plan to attend an open house at one of the schools we are considering for Elliot (9yo) next year. We really want to make informed decisions and these open houses will help us complete his application. Brent works several nights a week, so it’s me, five kids, dinner duties, homework monitoring, and all the usual. I don’t mind not having the extra adult hands, but that night I also wanted to make this open house. Here were several of the options I had in mind and some of the thoughts on each:

  • Bike all the children to the open house (it’s only 3miles each way, but it would be dark on the way back, I haven’t ridden there before and I am not familiar with the neighborhoods or the streets, the children wouldn’t get their work done or their dinner before a reasonable bedtime)
  • Bike the youngest children only (the older ones could manage a dinner and homework, we’d only have to take one bike, could hope for snacks at the open house to hold over the younger children and feed them more when we return)
  • Take the bus with any combination of all or the littles (missed the first bus by the time I thought of this plan, second bus would get us there an hour late, other bus options would drop us off a bit further away and I don’t know the neighborhood well enough to know if we should be walking around it, I’d have to look around for cash/exact change or stop by ATM)
  • Reserve the car share, taking all or the littles (started to “worry” about where to park at the school, was paying for a car “worth” going to the open house?, how ridiculous does it feel to drive 3miles?, I am obviously having money/guilt/driving issues here)
  • Find a sitter and bike alone to the open house (the one lead on sitters didn’t call me back this week, as I had this in mind on Sunday, our exchange student isn’t up to the task of being responsible for four other children, the other adults in the neighborhood haven’t offered, but should I ask them? seems awkward, and very last minute, should I be biking alone places I haven’t been, after dark?)
When we choose not to go
Even with a full moon, it was dark.

Ultimately, what kept me from going was not being familiar with the route to the school, the children not wanting to go anywhere, and the impending darkness. I am not opposed to cycling in the dark, we do it often. I am leery of cycling with the children in the dark through unfamiliar neighborhoods. Sounds like an unsafe plan at this time. I’d like to be more trusting, but I’m feeling “blind” in a new city. Homework and food were my second concern. I can whip together a lunch box and keep the kids up later, for things I feel are justified, as long as they don’t happen often. I really don’t have an issue with paying for a car or the bus (because right now we have the means), but it was bothering me that the distance was very bikeable and it didn’t feel necessary to use transit or a car. Children not wanting to leave their engaging play, is often something I don’t want to break up either, but it stalls a lot of opportunities and outings.

I scrambled my brain for someone who could bike with me, then wondered how ridiculous I might sound pleading for an escort, but in hind sight, that’s what I really need. I need a tour guide, a bike buddy. I need someone who knows these neighborhoods and roads. I want other people to want to ride with us. I don’t want to beg, but I certainly have been. Where are you cycling families!? Where are you patience and understanding?

Another night last week there was a fundraising party at a location I was familiar with, but I was feeling overwhelmed. Brent was working, the kids were not wanting to go, and so the situation played out that I didn’t see the event as neccessary, and we stayed in.

So, I feel like I gave up on these situations. I convinced myself that the open house wasn’t essential, but it would have been nice to attend. I allowed our lifestyle choice to hinder my attendance. Had their been a car in the drive, would we have taken it? I don’t know. I am very good at talking myself out of going places with all the kids by myself. There is very little joy in their company when they don’t want to go, and they didn’t. This happens occasionally (probably more than I would like it). Several of the children are able to pedal their own vehicles, and if they set their minds not to go, I have to get more creative, or we don’t go. These days, after the year we have endured, my creativity is running low.

We come back to this point often and we don’t seem to get far. Is it truly the children, the situation, the time of day, or our mood that is keeping us home, or is it the mode of transportation?

When we choose not to go
All seven of us went to dinner at a friends house on Sunday. No problems riding home in the dark through Delaware Park, altogether.

For example, I was meeting up with another family and commuter cyclist Friday night to discuss the launch of a Buffalo Kidical Mass. (Jesse also organizes the Buffalo Family Bicycling facebook page. Go join, then ride with me!) Brent was home, the kids weren’t wanting to leave, Eiki had a football game to go to, and it was drizzly and dark. Eiki took the train/bus and Jesse and I were meeting somewhere familiar, so I went, by myself. I left the house after bedtime, not that my kids were anywhere near sleeping, I think they were watching Back to the Future. I took the long way around a guerrilla bike path, because it’s not lit and it is rather boggy right now. We jabbered on till midnight, then I headed home, a different route, I wasn’t entirely familiar with, but knew enough about the neighborhood to feel comfortable. A kid free outing, the desire to go, a safe route all added up to choosing to ride my bike, alone. So maybe I didn’t give up on the other nights, but rather made a sound choice. Or maybe it’s all in the perspective.

MAP link home to coffee meet up to home, around the short cut, guerrilla path. Rode the sidewalks on Main Street.

When we choose not to go
It’s clear as the muddy ruts in this photo that we ride through here often. Thankfully several people have already secured funding for a paved and lit rails-to-trails pathway, coming…soon?
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Leaving the Flock

The Scene
We had a big birthday party after school on Thursday. Avery was celebrating turning six. We had an uncountable number of children in the house at any given time between 3:30 and 7:00pm. There were neighbors, school friends of various grades, siblings, myself and another mother and her newborn. There was also the forgotten violin lesson for London (10yo) at 4:45pm and my husband was at work.

Plan A was to have London stay home. It was her last lesson of the semester. I had forgotten about it, being focused on the party, and not having moved the appointment on my calendar from Tuesday to Thursday.

Plan B was to send her and Elliot (8yo) on their bikes together. Elliot would wait out the lesson with a book and they would return home together. It would be a 1 mile ride, each way. They’d have to cross Hal Greer Boulevard, a busy five lane (one turn lane in the middle) that recently changed their posting from No Turn on Red to No Turn on Red between 7&8am and 2&3pm. Every morning for months, when school returns to session there is a police car with his lights on at the corner across from the school. More often than not, there is car debris in the middle of the road from a recent accident. Everyone was turning right on red there anyway, so I guess they thought that it might be easier to just change the sign than to enforce the law? That corner sees most of their car and walking traffic during those hours, so part of me understands. The part of me that wants my children to be able to get safely across that street at anytime doesn’t.

When the children are on their own bikes, we use the cross walk. Riding up onto the side walk at the entry to the gas station also on that corner, and pushing the button. When the walk signal comes, it posts a red light to all directions of traffic and gives a walk signal to all directions of traffic. When drivers are permitted to turn right on red, their heads are often turned left to see if traffic is coming, not looking right to see if anyone is cross the street. I have issues with this, as you can read, but we choose to use the cross walk with our children at this intersection, and we are not the only ones. When we have the children on our cargo bikes, or we are riding solo, we use the traffic lane.

Milestone
That aside, Plan C is what took place. Elliot refused to leave the party, and I couldn’t blame him. Despite me explaining my needs for him to be with his sister for safety, that I would have to ask his friends to leave the party, that he may not have friends over during the weekend, or any other “trick” I could pull out, he wasn’t going to leave the house. Having the option of independent transportation can lead to one not transporting themselves. London needed to get to her lesson. I couldn’t leave the party, despite Elliot trying his best to convince ME that I would only be gone 20 minutes and that HE could keep an eye on a dozen plus children.

Having the power of independent transportation can lead one to transporting themselves. London went to her violin lesson, on her own bike, under her own power, all by herself. She carried her violin on her back, in its case with the strap. She had a second bag with her notebook and my cell phone, which Brent insisted I have her take along (I have opinions on this for another time). She said she didn’t want to go alone, at first. Then she said she couldn’t decide and that I should decide for her. Then she just went. She was down the driveway before I could get to the front door to see her off and make sure all her lights were on, that I reminded her to look left and right often, to signal only if she felt safe to lift her hand from the bars, to use the cross walk at Hal Greer, and all those other “worrisome reminders” that parents often recite as their children go out in to the world alone.

Wow. What an enormous milestone. She’s walked a couple blocks away by her self in the past. This time, she was riding in traffic, on her own vehicle, with the power of her own body, a mile from home. There were no bike lanes, no sharrows, no paths. Besides using that crosswalk light, there were no sidewalks. She immediately returns to the lane when the light permits her to cross. There was no one there to remind her what the yellow lines mean, or stop at the signs, or keep an eye on cars backing from driveways. All those behaviors we had been modeling for the past year, all those instructions we had been calling out, were being utilized.

She called when she arrived at lessons. Brent stopped by on his way home from work, with party pizzas, to escort her back in the dark. One mile was a huge accomplishment for her (although she really is nonplussed by the whole event), but a really great test of our own strength to let her go. Maybe you can imagine that Brent and I have different ideas of what our children should be able to do, or what we should allow them to experience. We do. We just come at this parenting thing from different childhoods of our own. We have different fears.

Imagine all of that one more time. Our 10 year old has the means and the ability to travel on the streets without an adult, along side and between vehicles driven by adults (and teenagers). Elliot could have been out there with her. He’s actually the far more responsible, aware and capable one of the two. An 8 year old on the road, on a vehicle that has every legal right to that space as a driver, but does not operate in the same capacity.

Advocating
It was with these ideas meditating that I read Chicargobike’s recent post that reminds the powers that be, that we must be thinking about complete streets and bike lanes with the intention of having 8-80 year olds get from where they are, to where they need to be, safely and efficiently.

My attitude that Huntington, WV is a bicycle friendly community, remains. However, as we watch our children grow and begin to consider all methods of transportation, we see so much need for improvement. Taking notice of these needs, I spend time writing down my thoughts and expressing my concerns to the agencies that can implement those changes. I encourage you to do the same, where ever you are. It’s one thing to wish things were different, and another thing to let someone know who can do something about it.

Before riding bicycles, we were happy enough to let others make decisions on our behalf. Hurray for a representative democracy! After riding (this could be a BB, before bicycles, and AB, after bicycles thing) we realized “our theys” were not making fully informed decisions. Most of those involved with the planning and  implementation of laws and infrastructure are not riding bikes, walking, in wheel chairs, etc. I am grateful for their attention to the matters, and deeply in love with those who are riding and who are making decisions and creating action, but they are not the majority. They are also experiencing something unique, and so are we.

Encouragement
The thought of asking London and Elliot to go to lessons on their own had been rolling around for a while. I felt like all I was doing was escorting her to practice and coming home. I wasn’t transporting her. She didn’t need me. Brent always met her for the pick up. Other than crossing Hal Greer, the rest of the trip was side streets that may not have had sidewalks and all but one of them didn’t even have paint lines. Very slow, casual roads, where you often found joggers and dog walkers sharing the road with you. The courage to finally send her on her own came from her violin instructor. It had nothing to do with violin. Their family is car-lite too. They ride bikes for transportation to school and work, but do other errands with their van. Hannah mentioned to me that they have been encouraging their 8 and 10year old to ride to school unaccompanied, and they have handled the 1.25mile commute very well, on sidewalks, their preferred riding style. Knowing someone else was out their doing what we wanted to do gave me some confidence to try it.

Does that sound familiar? I started cloth diapering after being around some parents who did so. We began composting after seeing a few friends incorporate this into their lives. We, as people everywhere, often want to see the actions we desire reflected in those around us. We also want to see what we are doing being reflected back. This is why we have social circles and social media. This is why some people move, choose certain schools, wear styles of clothing, practice their faith. We are trying to align ourselves and feel comfortable in our choices. Had Hannah not told me what they were doing, I might not have had London attempt this quite yet. She’s capable, but I don’t know that I was ready, socially, to let her go. While certainly, not everything I do, has to have been done before, or being acted out by others around me (ahem…cargo biking?!?), oftentimes, when it is, it serves as great encouragement.

The Hat Tip
The title of this post is a reference to Travis Wittwer’s Transportland post, Empty Nest. He discusses the discretion made to transition a child from the cargo bike to their own independent wheels. I am not sure where Travis is on having his children ride without an escort. I do know that this is not the start of regular independent child commuting for us, only a foundation.

Where are you in your family bicycling journey?

Fair Weather Riding

Last week we drove more often than we rode, or it felt like it any how. There were illnesses, cold days, and rainy afternoons. I did call a friend, and it took two cars (Pilot and Odyssey) to transport two bikes and my two children in addition to their five offspring combined to get everyone/thing home. It was greatly appreciated that day, as we had two with fevers and one vomiting. I wouldn’t have driven them anywhere, and Brent couldn’t do pick up because of class (also prior to the second Yuba.) I posted a photo on Facebook one day, of Oliver tucked into his car seat, napping under a flannel blanket, rain streaming down the window.

There was guilt in that photo. 53F sure felt cold that day. And I was remembering how my jeans feel glued to my upper legs with rain water. I just wasn’t ready for this weather. Pants aside, I didn’t have the mind to deal with it. Any of it. This day preceded the double episode of hand, foot and mouth disease and the vomiting, so maybe we both just needed to rest. Rest our bodies and our minds.

I am stubborn. That’s being nice about it. I like my commute. I love the challenge of it. I enjoy feeling alive each and every day and accomplishing those climbs and breathing in the season. When I manage to convince myself not to ride, or circumstances prevent it, I feel cheated and a bit lost. When it started raining today, at 60F, and no end in sight, I gathered every rain jacket in the house.

Oliver and I rode, wrapped up in polyvinyl chloride, nylon and polyester, up to school in the rain. 60F is a great temperature for rain. I was sweating lightly but didn’t unzip. My camera was around my neck. The wind was light and my glasses stayed clear under the brim of my Yakkay helmet. Oliver slept.

Yes he did. He felt asleep before we left the garage. Not a nod or a wink from him till we returned. No comments from passersby either. They know this tot can sleep through anything. He just doesn’t sleep at night (he’s still up now!). I put him in his slicker and then wrapped London’s long rain coat around his legs, securing the wrists at the back of the iBert with a hair tie.

I was most impressed with my own giddup. I wore Brent’s over-sized rain coat with the hood down and then tied my Columbia jacket around my waist, backwards. The back of the coat covered my lap like a skirt, keeping my pants dry! The iBert shields my knees and lower legs fairly well. It was impromptu, and made me a happy stoker. Of course, no photo. Let’s just say it aids in my argument of our mobile circus.

We learned last year that we should check our brakes in the rain. First thing. The children do this without a reminder now. Elliot was finding that he was fish tailing in the parking lot. I theorized his rear tread was low, and decided, for safety, I would just carry him and the bike back home. This made for a happy Elliot, and yet another reason e-assist feels like the right choice for our family. The two little boys are a combined 85lbs now. Elliot is near 60 and add in the two back packs and diapers bag and it’s a full load on a hill. I couldn’t even use the full momentum of the downhills to go up the other end, as we were riding slower in the rain. Fresh fallen leaves, wet asphalt, and a heavy bike equates to caution.

He didn’t ride home on his own saddle. He just wanted to see if he could. We might try to secure the bike and let him take a spin around the block one day. Just for fun. It has the potential of a makeshift Follow-me-tandem.

We arrived home safely. I lost my rain coat skirt on the way back, using it instead as a seat pad for Elliot. Every other rain coat was covering a backpack or a body. We pulled into the garage and draped the wet gear on the drying rack I set up before leaving. Best to keep the mess contained. This way, they can grab them on their way to school tomorrow.

We have the makings for being fair-weather cyclists, but we try hard to solve our challenges creatively and compromise between my persistence and Brent’s concerns. Rain pants are on my list, and have been (holding out for used or extreme discounts). We wore snow pants in the cold last year, but Brent thinks they hinder mobility for the older two and then they have to change upon arrival/departure.

What says you? Where have you invested in rain/snow gear to make the ride safe, quasi-comfortable, and quick to transition?

 

The Private Life of a Family Cyclist

Do you love how you pull your bike out of the garage, haul a heavy tot into their seat, get them all buckled in, arrange the helmet, load your bags, throw up the kickstand and sail down the drive, only to realize the neighbors were on their front steps watching, more like a befuddled stare. Then you start clicking through gears trying to find the right one to climb up the hill without seeing the gears at your thumb because the toddler brought along his large stuffed dog. You are weaving up the street as you search and because of all the potholes and broken asphalt, and you are slow, you swerve, a lot. Of course there is a very quiet Prius coming up behind you and you wonder exactly how long they had been watching this scene and decide they don’t look like the type to report you for reckless riding.

After you ascend a couple of hills and you have found your gear changing groove the toddler begins to cry, just as you pass the group of parents waiting on the school bus drop off, some idling in their vehicles, windows down. He’s not feeling well, fever of about 101 and you just woke him up from a nap to make it to the school on time. The whole neighborhood can hear him wailing about you going too fast, yes, he said too fast, as we jiggle our way up those hills. It’s a nice early fall day, so you try to point out the colors on the leaves, but you also notice everyone has their windows open. Great, more cries, more tears, a bit of thrashing around as more cars pass you. They make it look so easy, with their foot on the accelerator purring up and onward. Did they look back in their mirror to see what sort of torture you were inflicting on your son?

You notice they did. Was it really all that crying or was it the sort of cyclist-image you were trying to pull off? Was it the other 26″ bicycle you had stuffed into the side bag? Or the other three helmets and diaper bag strapped opposite the bike? Couldn’t be the helmet you are wearing that everyone always thinks is a “great hat.” Or that one pants leg is rolled over your knee and a camera is slung around your neck. Beet red face, sweat dripping, sloppy pony tail. Naw, you don’t look like a circus on two wheels. That’s how you look when you are returning home with the other three children.

The fourth child is crying about how much she hates that you towed her bicycle up to the school and not her brother’s bike-it’s so unfair. Her baskets are off balance so she dismounts and thinks walking the bike would be easier. A circus-on-wheels-look happens when she throws the bike on the ground, resigning to never bike again and you ask if she knows how to get home because you are leaving with her three brothers, all their gear and trying to stay ahead of the weather. Go ahead and do it with a smile because every teacher and parent is pulling out of the school right now too. The bright orange bike, the fire engine red bags and lime green seat do nothing to let everyone else know you are not a mobile clown unit.

Riding up hills with all that weight and a very concentrated look on your face because you are risking everyone’s life to go up the wrong side of the sidewalk that butts up against a lot of traffic. You love your commute, you love your family and you love your bicycle, but right now you feel like showing up unannounced at city hall and tossing the planning director on your deck and toting him back up this hill and see how good he feels and find out exactly where he might be concerned about cyclist safety. You want to give him an ear-full of the benefits of providing safe routes to schools and better access to cycling and pedestrian routes and discuss traffic calming, while huffing and puffing and maneuvering through the areas where trash bins were left out and cars and trucks take up parking on the sidewalk that is your preferred safe spot for this portion of your ride.

Then you see a little happy. Yes, happy. Two bicycles are rounding the bend toward you, on the street you don’t feel safe to pedal with your children, and one of them has their toddler in a rear seat. They wave profusely at you and your crew and you remember that the life of a cyclist is a private one. No driver could possibly know what is going on on those two little wheels of yours. They haven’t a clue why your contraption looks the way it does or why your children are behaving the way they are. You can’t really see any of the drivers anyway thanks to the sun and constant glare on their front windshield. They try to wave you through at four way stops but you can’t make eye contact to know what’s going on. Those cyclists know, because they are huge part of your private life. They see you and your trials and tribulations. They have had their own. You see them and are encouraged.

**This was a combination of days rolled into one story to illustrate how exposed we are and how some days just compound themselves, but it’s all worth it. There are a lot of people out there that understand us and what we are doing, but sometimes we feel so incredibly isolated and private in our way of life. “Risking my life” is an exaggeration, though there are days when I do feel it is dangerous. Even on those days, I do feel I am making a good choice as explained in this post: Despite the Dangers of Norway.

Bicycle Ridership

Some variation of children and I made it out three times this week on the bicycle. Monday morning we cruised into Ritter Park to meet up with friends, who are interested in family cycling and wanted to test ride our Yuba. Monday evening there was a grocery ride. Wednesday I met up with my Tour de PATH chairperson and we walked the town looking for ride sponsors, passing out our new I Bike PATH bike stickers (from BikeButtons/OrganicHaus), and leaving registration forms.

What I noticed right away were the volume of bicycles and riders every time I went out. I think I was only able to capture 10% of what I saw, and most of the time, because we were both moving, they weren’t great photos. Here are some of the better images.

Four friends began commuting by bicycle this week, as children are being released from school, and morning routines are changing. Two other friends bought bicycles and they are also learning their way to work. We learned there were 10 employees at Huntington Prime who bike commute. Our PATH champion, Bethany, at RTI said she’s been doing everything by bike for over a month now. Another friend had her handlebars reconfigured to attach a front mount seat to ride with her son.  It’s happening Huntington. Thank you all for being out there and trying so hard to gain a new perspective. We believe that more riders is the most simple thing we can do to make riding safer for us all.

Any one notice the theme in the pictures? All these riders were on sidewalks or pedestrian crosswalks and many going against the direction of traffic, making crossing dangerous or difficult. I watched some bike down a sidewalk in one direction, cross in the middle of the street to the opposite side walk, so they could use the pedestrian walkway under the railroad tracks.

Not one bike was at a bike parking space. The other photos were on the trail and inner circle at the park, where their is no auto traffic.

Most people do not feel it is safe to ride on the streets, despite it being illegal to ride on the sidewalks in our downtown area. Despite the bike lane that is being painted and signed on 4th Avenue. Despite the low volume of slow moving cars and traffic lights at nearly every block/intersection. Despite me riding on the street with my two children aboard and my teeny-tiny efforts to encourage people otherwise.

Feelings are important and if there is anything I can do to help people feel safer, please let me know. I would even ride with you and help show you my chosen routes and how I stop and where and why, and we would all go slow. Which is one of the objectives of Cycle Socials. Perhaps it’s time to schedule another.

 

Miles Walked: 3.5 Biked: 59 Bused: 0 Drove: 0 Carpool: 6.8 This week
138.1 2266.5 1176.6 3691.8 294 Since August 14, 2011

 

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