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Designing our streets for children

Lindsay Bliek of This Mom Bikes has a new post that cuts right to the chase: “Kids Don’t Drive”.

We do not design a credible transportation network for children, but we should.

In North America, we build our cities with the car in mind: parking, ease of travel, and so-called safety. This is rarely, if ever, conducive to a safe, comfortable, and convenient experience for other road users, particularly for children; for example, wide streets built to make sure that no one waits when driving results in lanes of traffic for kids to cross. We also design public transit largely around getting working people to and from major employment hubs, eg. downtown — again, ineffective for most kids. And school buses can only cover part of a kid’s day, plus they need to be able to safely walk to their designated bus stop. So what is a kid to do?

If we agree that leaders should prioritize the dignity of the lowliest members of our society, then it also seems clear that children are among the best examples of such members. Right now, children aren’t even second-class citizens of our public spaces. These spaces are actively dangerous to children. Anything that accommodates the needs of children, especially in our transportation, is a faraway afterthought, if it even exists.

One of car culture’s most damning effects on our collective consciousness is how we’ve come to associate a person’s dignity, or even their personhood, with car ownership. Consider how getting a car is not-so-subtly associated with an adolescent’s first steps into adulthood. Car access equals the ability to fully participate in society, to finally be a real person. But should it?

Bliek’s article goes into much more detail about the specific problems and implications by this. She argues that designing for children also accommodates all other members of our society as well. She says it better than I can, so I’ll quote her words:

They say that children are an indicator species for cities. The pale/male/stale image of cycling, for example, has dominated imagery of active transportation for decades and is only recently beginning to shift. When we see children included more in that imagery and actually see them out in the wild, we know that we have created a city that is appealing and safe for those beyond the pale/male stereotype of the brave, lycra-clad warrior. Instead, we have created a city where children, women, families, seniors, disabled, and able-bodied people alike, can exist and move when they want and how they want. And all of those people deserve that respect: the right to travel safely by whatever mode they choose.

We need to prioritize the safety of children everywhere in our communities. That doesn’t just mean keeping children safe from strangers, it means keeping them safe from cars. And that doesn’t mean armoring them inside SUVs, it means stopping SUVs from threatening them when they’re on foot or on bicycles.