To some, this scene of a Kidical Mass ride may represent a wholesome, healthy way for parents to spend a summer afternoon with their kids. But one Oregon congressman sees something altogether more sinister happening here.
Representative Mitch Greenlick has proposed a state law, punishable by a $90 fine, that will, if passed, make it illegal for parents to bicycle with a child under six in a bike seat, trailer, or on a tow-along bike.
Portland has long been revered by bicycle enthusiasts for its bike-friendly culture and infrastructure. It boasts the highest number of bike commuters of any large U.S. city, and it’s the only city in the nation that has been awarded with the League of American Bicyclists’ platinum status. The city council unanimously approved the 2030 Bicycle Master Plan last year, envisioning Portland as a “world-class bicycling city” and outlining a goal of building three times as many bicycle routes as the city currently has.
So why would Greenlick, a Democrat representing Northwest Portland, introduce a bill that would keep a large segment of the cycling population from using their bicycles as transportation?
Greenlick cites child safety. He says that while there’s no data to suggest children are unsafe in bike trailers, bike seats, or on tow-along bikes, he wants to “start a conversation” about the topic and hopes his proposed bill will compel a study. He points to a recent study of serious male riders who bike to work on a regular basis, which he says found that 30 percent of riders suffer a “traumatic injury” each year and 8 percent suffer an injury serious enough to require medical attention.
“I was not able to resist asking myself what would have happened to a young child strapped into a seat on the bike when the rider suffered that serious traumatic injury,” Greenlick wrote in a statement. “The study clearly leads us to work to reduce the environmental hazards that make those injuries more likely.”
The study Greenlick cites actually found that 20 percent of serious cyclists experienced a traumatic injury each year and 5 percent required medical attention. And, Mia Burk, the former bicycle coordinator of the city of Portland and current CEO of Alta Planning and Design, points out that the language in the study is misleading, because the emotionally-loaded words “traumatic injury” actually denote minor injuries, like bumps, bruises, and scrapes. As she points out, doing any sort of outdoor athletic activity brings some risk of minor injury, as does cooking. Moreover, the study says nothing about the safety of bike trailers, tow-along bikes, or bike seats.
Greenlick is simply concerned that transporting kids on bikes may be dangerous. I’ve heard the same concerns before, notably from my own parents. And here’s where, at the risk of destroying my status amongst adventurists and the free-range parenting community, I have a little confession to make. My husband and I are, um, cautious. Okay I said it. We’re not into heli-skiing or sky-diving, bull-riding or rugby, motocross or sword swallowing. I teasingly call my husband “Safety Dad”, because he seems to have the vision of a condor when it comes to detecting danger. “Be really careful,” were some of our son’s first words, which perhaps tells you how often he’s heard that phrase.
When we ride our bikes, we take quiet roads and bike paths, wear helmets, and look both ways before we cross streets. And we — cue the scary music — strap our son into a bike trailer, which we both feel is safe, and which my son loves riding in.
Not surprisingly Greenlick’s bill has outraged Oregon’s cycling community, including the small but growing number of people who live car-free. Greenlick says he’s received hundreds of angry letters in the last week, and he’s already considering amending the bill to get rid of the violation portion and instead ask for a study on child safety.
I’m glad Greenlick is reconsidering this bill, because I believe it is misguided on a number of levels. Oregon is suffering during this economy, and the bill would hurt one of the most economically vulnerable populations — those who can’t afford cars.
I agree with Greenlick that we should have a conversation about bicycle safety, because we should be encouraging more people to ride bikes. We know that bicycling is good for the health of people, society, and the environment. We also know that a large percentage of Americans say in surveys that they would like to ride a bike, but feel scared doing so. Bicycling does not have to be as risky as it is in most American cities.
I like to envision a city where the roads and sidewalks are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists, a city with lots of bike lanes, bike paths, bike boulevards, and bike boxes. A city where goods and services are within walking distance of where people live. A city where sprawling parking lots, 12-lane highways, and neighborhoods without sidewalks, which are deadly to non-motorists, are replaced with human-scale development. A city where the air and water are clean and people are healthy.
If it’s hard to imagine such a city, my vision looks a little bit like this:
I hope Greenlick’s bill will start a conversation about how we can get closer to this vision. Criminalizing riding bikes with children is certainly not that way.
Besides, as my husband, points out, “When bicycle trailers are outlawed, only outlaws will tote their kids in bicycle trailers.”
If you liked this post, check out these related posts:
- Bicycle Love
- Car-Free Chronicles
- Confessions From the Car-Free Life
- Lessons in Car-Free Living
- Car-Free Delivery
- Car-Free With Four Kids!
- Plan a Car-Free Vacation
- A Snapshot of Car-Usage in America
- Revisiting the Car-Free Life
What do you think of Greenlick’s bill? I’d love to hear your thoughts.