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Dreaming of a bike and family friendly city

Feb 17, 2011
Dreaming of a bike and family friendly city

by Jen Kelly, Lead Business Dev’t Coordinator

On my drive to work this morning, an unusual scene caught my eye:

Right in the middle of downtown Seattle, a father was riding in perfect sync on a triple tandem bike with his two daughters. I caught up with them at the Spruce Street School, the only K-5 in downtown Seattle.

He told me that they live in Queen Anne, and try to bike to school at least 3 times a week. As we chatted, his oldest daughter stood a few feet away with a proud look on her face as he told me that they are also training for the Seattle to Portland bike ride coming up this July. I asked “Oh, you’re preparing for the race?”, to which he responded, “Yeah, the three of us are.” (I did mention that these girls are in a K-5 school, right?)

p.s. STP organizers: you should feature this family in your marketing materials — if they don’t shame inspire people into participating, I don’t know what will

In Europe, the following photos are not uncommon:

(kidding… this last photo was in Portland)
I know, I know, we’re all getting tired of hearing about how great biking is in Holland, and Denmark, and even Portland. Although we may not have the ideal situation ( = flat) as some of these areas, there’s no reason why we can’t start adopting successful elements. Yes! Magazine wrote a great article, looking at what it would take to make biking less of a “recreational activity” and more mainstream:

In Utrecht, Holland, 95 percent of older students—kids in the 10 to 12 age range—bike to school at least some of the time. In the U.S., roughly half that percentage (50 percent of kids) walked or biked to school… back in 1970. Since then, the rate has dropped to 15 percent, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School program.
Some bullet points of their success:

  • kids learn about biking and bike safety in school
  • in The Hague, the city works hard to separate bike paths from streets used by cars and trucks
  • access to safe, convenient bike storage
  • using color on the roadways to clearly designate bike lanes

At some point, we have to face the facts — not only are oil prices are going to go up again, but our obesity rates have tripled in the past three decades, with one in three children currently obese or overweight.

There are campaigns out there that are trying to push us in the right direction — Seattle has a new Walk, Bike, Ride challenge, and 6 months ago, Michelle Obama came out with the “Let’s Move” obesity campaign. And although Forbes.com lists Seattle as the 7th family friendly city, they were really only looking at taxes, incomes, and total expenses to figure a family’s ability to live a good lifestyle. But is that really all it takes to be family friendly? It’s not saying much for our city that we only have one K-5 school, or that people don’t feel safe in our downtown parks.

So — I put it out to the rest of you — what will it take for the scene I saw this morning to become a mainstream in Seattle instead of unusual?

4 Comments

  1. I am very proud of our fellow bikers at Spruce Street School. The family that inspired us to begin biking at the school used to ride every single day, one daughter on the back of a tandem, the other on a tag-along behind. For the first two years, my daughter and I rode a single bike/tag-along set up, then graduated last year to a tandem outfitted with pedal extensions for a child-sized rider on the back. This week our daughter rode her own bike for the first time. We come from Fremont, so have the benefit of a flat ride. Still, the headwinds get strong on Lake Union, and we were both freezing while we awaited the light at South Lake Union. Don’t know that I’ve ever seen a smile so big on her face, though, as she pulled up to school on her own bike Wednesday morning, rosy cheeks and all. No comparison with another day in rush-hour car traffic.

  2. @1 — I wondered if anyone would comment on the irony of my post. It’s a good point — what I didn’t get into is what I consider a huge barrier to biking in Seattle — how scared I am of biking in the city.

    With no citywide dedicated biking lanes, getting around the city as a “casual biker” terrifies me — I wrote about it in more detail here:

    http://via-architecture.blogspot.com/2010/09/how-to-bike-in-city-thats-built-for.html

  3. It was nice to meet you this morning. This is an interesting post and I love the photos. Many of our parents (and children) bike to work…and walk, bus, carpool, and even drive. We are all thinking about the best way to commute. We spend one week in May focused on Green Commute–look out for more bikers that week! From Briel Schmitz, Director, Spruce Street School

  4. Nice to know you are blogging about biking being so great – yet you catch all of this from the front seat of your car driving to work. Maybe the blogger could learn a lesson or two from their own banter.