A couple of years ago I considered it an achievement when I successfully taught my kids to ride a bicycle. It took a bit of effort but they are now among the small percentage of kids in their respective age group who can ride a bike.
Unlike before, riding a bike isn’t a very important life skill anymore so my kids usually don’t ride without their parents. When I was their age, the bike would be one of the most important summer-time gadgets that would allow me to visit friends, test my limits and explore the world. The bicycle has obviously been replaced by the tablet and the desktop these days but having kids who can bike is always an advantage. Biking comes in handy when backpack DIY traveling as well as when the world runs out of fuel during a zombie apocalypse.
We don’t bike a lot but any parent who tried biking with their kids will immediately notice how dangerous our roads are for bikers, especially when novice riders are involved. We don’t live in a gated village with bike-friendly streets so we have this side street route that I’m pretty sure my kids have already gotten tired of, but the paranoid parent in me still wouldn’t allow them to bike alone because our streets just feel more dangerous these days.
I’m not sure if the difference between biking during my childhood and now is that I was biking as a young, unsupervised and free kid and now I’m a paranoid parent but even our side streets feel busier and generally unsafe for biking children these days. Even if bike lanes are ever put up, the lack of rules and courtesy towards bikers still makes biking feel more dangerous than it used to.
Maybe I’m just being an entitled parent who feels that the world has to be more considerate towards novice bikers. Maybe my kids just need a little more training on the rules of the road that should keep them relatively safe from the crazy drivers that make our roads extra dangerous. Maybe I’m just lucky that today’s kids are not interested in taking their bikes and disappearing for entire afternoons or maybe I should loosen up if my kids say they want to go biking because most of my generation survived those biking summers when we were kids anyway. Maybe I shouldn’t have taught them to bike at all if all I’m going to do is complain about our roads.
Any parent who teaches their kids to bike will have to face the fact that they cannot bike in the yard or a designated safe area forever. One day they will have to go on the road. They might not need to do it so much anymore because of their online lifestyles, helicopter parents, ride sharing services, and our communities becoming more compact and self sufficient but if you come to think of it, there is no point in teaching kids to bike if they’re not going to be allowed to do it on the street.
The way I see it, those of us who drive now started our informal driving lessons when we started biking around as kids. Biking taught us which side of the road to bike on, how to cross intersections safely, and how to generally use the road. Stories of friends who got into accidents gave us an idea of the consequences of reckless behavior. This is something that kids today who don’t bike are not exposed to and that is why it will benefit society if more of our kids would learn to bike.
But because our roads continue to be dangerous, parents continue to be paranoid, and techie kids have no reason to bike, the future doesn’t look very bright for bicycles. Because bikes are seen as an environmentally friendly transportation option, many local government units are heeding the clamor for bike lanes but if the environment that can encourage more cyclists doesn’t change, it looks like bicycles are losing the usage battle.
Everyone agrees that bike lanes are nice additions to modern urban areas that should encourage biking as a transportation option. However, our roads have to be safer than they are now if more of the succeeding generation is going to learn how to ride bicycles. Designating a lane on certain roads using thermoplastic paint may create bike lanes almost instantaneously but changing the mindset of the people who have been using those roads without consideration for others nor fear of consequences is going to be tougher.
Will real and usable bicycle lanes be part of future cities or are we reaching the end of biking as a form of urban transportation? The answer to that question is up to today’s parents and government leaders.*
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