Bike Month: Family Biking Profile of Kate Gallery

Bike Month_ Family Biking Profiles-2

May is National Bike Month! To celebrate, I’ll be profiling some awesome families who bike with their kids for transportation and recreation. Later on, I’ll also highlight some excellent resources for family biking.

Following up on my profile of Leanne, here’s Kate Gallery’s story. Kate lives on Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill with her two-year-old daughter. She’s the owner of Recess Outings, which offers parent-child bicycle tours around the city and is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She’s also offering a special deal for blog readers – if you use the discount code ‘timeforrecess’ on the Recess Outings website you get 50% off a ride!

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Bike Month: Family Biking Profiles

May is National Bike Month! To celebrate, I’ll be profiling some awesome families who bike with their kids for transportation and recreation. Later on, I’ll also highlight some excellent resources for family biking.

Bike Month_ Family Biking Profiles

This is not of Leanne.

To start with, here’s a profile of Leanne, who lives in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, D.C. She kindly answered my call for families willing to be profiled that I put out on the D.C. Family Biking Facebook Group. She lives with her almost-two-year-old daughter and her husband.

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Ridiculous Moments in Parenting: Last Week Edition

Last week, I wasn’t even at home and yet the shenanigans were even more absurd than usual. Because I was at a work conference all week, Chris had to play stay-at-home single parent to a two-year-old, an exceptionally challenging job. Here were just a few of the ridiculous things that happened.

– Sprout declaring that Kraft macaroni and cheese was “delicious,” a complement much higher than that he usually bestows on any food: This is despite the fact that Chris was a professional cook in a very expensive restaurant before leaving to stay home. Now, Sprout eats way more vegetables than the average toddler (hurray!), but the fact that Kraft Mac and Cheese was the height of culinary prowess according to him was rather horrifying and funny. No accounting for taste.

– Doing the Hokey Pokey by myself in a hotel room: Keeping the attention of a toddler over FaceTime is challenging at best. To try to keep Sprout from wandering off, I started listing off songs he might want me to sing. After asking about “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” “10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” and “House at Pooh Corner,” I finally scored with the Hokey Pokey. Which led to me sticking my right foot in and right foot out and turning all about by myself next to my hotel bed and holding out an iPhone trying not to trip.

– Spout taking a giant bite out of a hat: Chris is a big Green Bay Packers fan, so one of our baby shower gifts was a kid-sized cheese hat. Chris happened to find it in Sprout’s closet and showed it to him, commenting “This is a cheese hat.” Sprout replied, “Cheese hat?” and then “chomp.” He managed to get a good chunk out of it before Chris could wrest it away from him and explain it was “play cheese!”

– Experiencing our first hysterically funny toddler tantrum: The other day, Sprout was really upset for no apparent reason. The answer to every question we asked was “no.” The epitome was him running in place like he was in the world’s worst gym class, flailing his arms like a rabid chicken. I always thought that parents taking photos of their kids crying was kind of mean, but I finally understood as I tried to contain my laughter.

– Chasing after a toddler mid-puke holding out a Tupperware container: For some reason, Sprout often gets sick when I go out of town. Luckily for Chris, he waited until the day after I got back to do so this time. Fortunately for everyone, the bout only lasted three hours and he was fine by the afternoon.

– Going on a bicycle ride by myself on my own bike: While this used to be an extremely common occurrence, it definitely felt like a personal accomplishment in the same sense that Beth Woolsey of Five Kids is a Lot of Kids describes being able to clip her nails. I ride back and forth to the Metro every day, but that’s on clunky, heavy Capital Bikeshare bikes. When I do have the luxury of using my own well-loved Bianchi hybrid, it’s almost always dragging an extra 50 pounds between the trailer and the growing toddler. Being able to go on a ride and worry about no one else besides myself was truly glorious, especially because I rode through the well-shaded Rock Creek Park.

– Bike grease making its way onto my child’s face and very most likely, inside his mouth: Later the same day, we took a very short ride to our little downtown area. As I was putting my bike away, Sprout started running his fingers over the chain, despite my protests. Then, because he’s teething his molars in and the simple fact that he’s two, he promptly put his hand in his mouth. (At least I’m assuming he did – I didn’t actually see it, but he did have grease on the side of his mouth.) As I know bike grease is definitely not non-toxic, that was a super awesome parenting fail. Hopefully, he won’t be puking again tomorrow.

What were some of the most ridiculous things that happened to you this week?

Guest Post: Kidical Mass Rockville Kick-Off

Biking, and particularly family biking, is a passion for me. I want to make our roads safe and fun for everyone to travel on, including children. So to help encourage families to bring their kids on bikes for both recreation and transportation, I lead Kidical Mass rides in our town. Kidical Mass is a national movement to support family biking and we’re one of five of them in the Washington D.C. area – one of the highest densities in the nation!

We had our first Kidical Mass ride of the season last week and it went really well. Thirteen people including six kids showed up to ride to ice cream. I’ve written it up on our Kidical Mass Rockville blog, so check it out!

The Season Starts off Right with Italian Ice!

Tour de Cookie is Good Enough for Me

I am a big fan of food-based bicycle rides. Maybe it’s because I have fond childhood memories of biking to Lakeside Farms for apple cider donuts or along the Lake George bike trail for ice cream. Or maybe it’s because they combine two of my favorite things. Either way, the Tour de Cookie, which features 7 to 11 different cookie stands, depending on the route, is close to my ideal ride. Plus, it benefits a local group that connects abused and neglected children with needed services. Yummy desserts, biking and benefiting a good cause? A few months ago, I said, “Count me in yet again for this year!” Plus, I wasn’t the ride alone – my parents traveled down from upstate New York and I would be dragging Sprout in the bike trailer.

While I had done the Tour de Cookie previously, I was slightly nervous about my readiness level. While I was seven months pregnant the last time I did it, I wasn’t dragging a trailer with a nearly 30 pound kid. Even though I ride every day now, it’s only a mile each way to the Metro without kid-towing duties. In contrast, the Tour de Cookie is 12 miles, plus another four miles from my house to the starting line and back, for a total of 20. In addition to my own capacity, I was also a little paranoid about whether or not Sprout would be okay being in the trailer for that long. Sure, he loved the ride a few weeks back, but that was only 3 miles with a break in the middle. At least I wasn’t signed up for the 40 mile long route!

One executive decision that helped both of us was the choice for Chris to drive Sprout to the start and then home again after the ride. I still needed to drag the trailer those 8 miles, but it was around 30 pounds lighter. In addition, the section we rode back and forth on is bumpy and a glorified sidewalk at best, so I was very glad he wasn’t present.

Being a bike advocate for the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee, I couldn’t resist (or maybe get out of) volunteering in some way. Thankfully, I got the simplest job we had – the person pointing the way and cheering for people starting the ride.

Bicyclists at the start of the Tour de Cookie

From my viewpoint, I had a great perspective on the diversity of participating riders. The Washington Area Bicyclists’ Association’s Women and Bicycles group had a great turnout, with a bunch of women clad in their distinctive teal jerseys. I nearly yelped when I saw three people riding a triple tandem bicycle, something I didn’t even think existed. The family biking contingent was in full force, with tons of parents with trailers and kids on their own bikes for the short route. I wish I had Rockville Kidical Mass business cards to hand out.

Bicyclists on a triple bicycle in the Tour de Cookie

Shannon and John (Rootchopper) at the Tour de Cookie

My location also made a perfect meeting space. Earlier that morning, fellow blogger John (also known as Rootchopper) at a Few Spokes Shy of a Wheel tweeted that he was at the registration desk and – knowing I was going to be riding – was looking for me. A few tweets later, he walked up and introduced himself in person! Right off, he said, “I love your blog.” As I don’t have very many readers, it warmed my heart to know at least one fan (who isn’t my mom) truly enjoys it. (Plus, he said my kid is cute, so super bonus points there.) Because we’re bloggers, we obviously took a selfie. I was rocking the sweet neon ride marshall vest.

Once I made sure everyone knew where they were going and had been thoroughly cheered, it was time for our merry band to take off. Sprout tried to climb in the trailer without prompting and didn’t even fuss with his “bike hat.” My parents followed me like the world’s slowest peloton as we rode to the first stop at Thomas Farm Community Center. Even though it was first, it was probably my favorite cookie stop across the entire seven-stop ride. The Girl Scout troop running it made homemade versions of beloved Girl Scout cookies, including Tagalongs and Thin Mints. I tried to share a peanut butter one with Sprout, who wasn’t the most cooperative. At first, he only wanted the big piece. Then, once he accepted the smaller one, he just walked around holding it without even trying to eat it. The thought patterns of an almost two-year old continue to elude me.

The rest of the ride was a pleasant ramble around Rockville’s Millennium Trail, a bicycle beltway around the city. We got stuck behind a very large group of adults and kids who were far less familiar with the best practices of group riding (like passing on the left or riding in a line) than we would have preferred. That’s rather inevitable with a short, family-friendly ride like this though. My mom – who is used to a much quicker pace – said it was the most relaxed ride she had ever been on. Of course, she’s never been on one of our Kidical Mass rides! Sprout only whined twice, both times because his helmet fell in front of his eyes. Understandable, and a quick fix. He seemed to enjoy the whole thing, especially our second major stop, where he gobbled down a chocolate-heavy granola bar he shared with my mom. Multi-generational family cycling at its best. I enjoyed that stop too, as it was at the top of the biggest hill on the ride. Eventually, the movement of the trailer lulled him to sleep and he was snoozing by the finish line.

From cheering others on to the delicious cookies throughout the route, the Tour de Cookie was a great celebration of and for our local cycling community.

Montessori Practical Life Skills for Modern Times

My son is in a Montessori playgroup, so I’ve spent a decent amount of time browsing descriptions of the philosophy as well as activity suggestions on Pinterest. While I agree with its broad aims of child-led education and teaching practical skills, one thing that frustrates me is that the curriculums don’t seem to be updated to reflect modern times. And I’m not even talking about computers. While some of the skills taught are great, like gardening, others are downright archaic, grown out of date through the development of technology or culture. For example, I certainly don’t iron handkerchiefs, arrange flowers, polish silver or wash chalkboards on a regular basis. (These are some of the tasks mentioned in Montessori presentations and Montessori websites about Practical Life Skills.) Instead, I offer a suggested list of updated activities and life skills that Montessori or not, practical-minded parents and teachers may want to integrate into their children’s learning. These are skills that I do use very regularly, some learned from my parents and some through trial and error. I’ve gained as an adult through some amount of trial and error, building on my parents’ well-intentioned efforts to teach me them when I was younger, which I often ignored.

Picking out and cooking vegetables: Food preparation is a pretty big part of the Montesorri curriculum, from what I can tell. They actually teach kids to use knives properly, which is both great and something my junior high home-Ec class failed to teach me. (The main thing Home-Ec taught me about kitchen knives was to be afraid of them.) Picking out and cooking vegetables is the next step up, but definitely a skill that an elementary school student could learn under supervision. I think it’s essential for kids to learn how to cook vegetables in particular because there’s such a cultural prejudice against them. Children are already told by society that they should dislike vegetables. In contrast, part of the reason many of us love to bake cookies at Christmas or pie at Thanksgiving is because we fondly remember doing so with our parents or grandparents. If most people looked back on cooking tomato sauce, preparing sweet potatoes, or sauteeing broccoli with their families, I think we’d all eat a lot more veggies. Involving kids in the process builds that inherent fondness, staves off some of that cultural negativity and helps them feel responsible for the end product. Even if a kid is too young to even go near the stove, parents and teachers can still talk about what vegetables are in season and how you can tell if a vegetable is fresh. In terms of specific learning goals, this allows you to talk about seasons, months of the calendar, problem solving (if this isn’t in season, what can I use instead?), and characteristics of a vegetable like color, firmness and flavor. In field or shopping trips to the farmers’ markets, children can ask farmers questions, learning about agriculture as a career and different growing methods. For older kids, this can feed into conversations about environmental impacts, the transport of goods, and plant life cycles.

Taking care of animals: Everyone knows that taking care of an animal can be great for teaching responsibility, but no parent wants the poor animal to suffer through the child’s learning process. But both parents and teachers can help prepare students to be good stewards of wild and domestic animals without taking on the responsibility of a cat or dog. For wild animals, kids can help fill bird feeders, plant flowers for pollinating insects, or hang bat houses. On the most basic level, little ones can practice their pouring skills with small bags of bird seed. On a deeper level, it can lead to conversations about animals’ needs (food, shelter) and larger ecological roles. Classrooms usually can’t have cats or dogs, but many can have lizards, hamsters, butterflies, or fish. As part of the class’s daily activities, children can feed the animals, play with them, and even help clean their cages. To build awareness of the skills needed for keeping more demanding pets, students could take care of toy cats or dogs, play-acting feeding and brushing them. Kids themselves love to pretend they are pets, which also helps them build empathy for animals and think about how they may see the world differently from humans.

Recycling and composting: Recycling and composting provide tons of great opportunities to build sorting skills as well as lead into bigger thematic conversations. Depending on your community’s recycling set-up, you may be separating garbage into paper, plastic, metal and trash, or if it’s single stream like ours, just recyclable and non-recyclable. Adding composting to the mix makes it even more complicated, with produce scraps able to go into it, but no other food scraps. If you do your own composting, you can also explain how you need to balance the food scraps with dry input like newspapers. These activities can lead into conversations about how much we throw away and what happens to it, how that affects other people and how we can reduce our waste. With older kids, composting is a great opportunity to talk about decomposers, soil chemistry, and their role in ecology.

Bike maintenance: This is one I could use a better handle on myself. When I pulled my personal bike out for the first time this spring, Sprout was fascinated by it. I showed him how I pumped up my tires and had him help by pushing down on the handle. Every kid who has a bike should at least be able check their bike ABCs before each ride – Air in the tires, Brakes working, and Chain running well. In an ideal world, they should also know how to place a jumped chain back on and fix a flat tire, although those are both fairly challenging. These skills build both fine and gross motor skills, along with problem solving skills. While preschoolers and even most elementary school kids won’t bike alone, having these skills does make biking possible as a form of transportation for kids, far earlier than they can drive.

These are just a few of the practical skills that I think we should be teaching all kids, especially in the Montessori curriculum with its focus on “real life” learning.

What practical life skills do you want to teach your young kid or do you wish you were taught when you were a child?

Reintroducing the Bike to a Toddler

Most of the time, when I do a bike ride, my training is the most important aspect. But when I’m bringing along a small passenger, I need his willing participation as well. For the upcoming Tour de Cookie, I was quite concerned that Sprout was not going to buy into my plan. Fortunately, after pulling my bike out of the shed for the first time this spring for a ride with him, I’m much more confident that we’ll all have a good time.

While I rode with Sprout a number of times last year, he was never fond of it. Although he was big enough to be in the trailer, he wasn’t tall enough to see well out of the windows. He was also much more adverse to risk than he is now, making the bumps rather disconcerting to him. To make it worse, he absolutely hated hats, especially his bike helmet. He would whine, yell, and try to pull it off to no avail. He smiled all of once when I put him in the trailer last year. He usually fell asleep, looking uncomfortable with his head on his chest. I probably would have skipped riding with him altogether if I hadn’t been leading the Rockville Kidical Mass rides. You can’t really lead a ride for families with young kids without your young child with you.

This year already seemed more promising even before we got on the bike. Sprout’s nearly twice as old as he was last spring. Since the ride in November, his demeanor and understanding of what’s going on has evolved considerably. He can now use words to tell me what’s wrong, follow social cues, understand simple explanations, and predict what will happen next. All of these characteristics made me think he might have a much more pleasant, less disorienting biking experience now than he did then.

Even better, he now knows what a bike is and can say the word. There are bikes in a number of his books, including Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go. He loves pointing them out with a proud, “Bike!” On the way home from the playground, he always stops at the Capital Bikeshare stand to spin the pedals.

A few days before our first ride, I introduced the idea of my bike and trailer to him. I hooked up my pump to my tires and encouraged him to “help” me pump by pushing down on the handle. He wanted to poke at everything, so I let him spin my bike’s pedals and touch the tires. I tried to keep his little hands away from the gears, the many sharp or pointy components, and the greasy chain. Unfortunately, I was only partly successful in that last effort. When I took the tarp off of the trailer, his first instinct was to climb inside.

For our first ride of the season, I got home early on a pleasantly warm day. Unfortunately, the sky had turned from blue and calm to gray and windy during the day, so I limited our ride to less than 2 miles. Although it was going to be far less than the 15 mile Tour de Cookie (plus a few miles each way to get back and forth from the start), I figured it was better to get something in than nothing.

For starters, Sprout seemed much less upset about his helmet than he had been in the past. It fit him better (his head has grown), he’s taken a fondness to hats after reading Jan Brett’s The Hat, and he’s been interested in my helmet for a while. I explained, “You get to wear a bike hat like mommy!”, which seemed to help. While there was a little bit of whinage, it wasn’t a National Emergency the way so many things in toddlerdom are.

When Chris helped me put Sprout in the trailer, he looked around and actually smiled! He seemed eager to find out what was going to happen. (He’s young enough that he has no memory of last year’s experiences.) He was a little startled when we started to move, but he quickly caught on, leaning forward and giving me a running commentary of our surroundings. I heard a little chorus of “Car! Car! Car!” every time we passed a parked car. I explained how this was like the horse and cart (or zebra and carriage or elephant and bandstand) in To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry St., except I was the beast of burden and he was the passenger. After reading all of these transportation books and walking around himself, I suspect he has a much deeper appreciation as to what is involved in pulling him around. He actually liked it so much that he cried when I put the tarp over the trailer when we were done.

Besides enjoying the ride, Sprout had a much different reaction than when he’s in the car. I’m not sure if it’s that he can’t see much or it’s the vibration, but for short car trips, he goes into a really quiet, meditative-like state. He genuinely doesn’t seem interested in interacting, even if you try. In contrast, he was very engaged in the trailer, talking to me even though I had a hard time hearing him. I love that even though the trailer is more isolated than a kid’s bike seat, he was still getting some of the benefits of the biking experience.

To top it all off, I was reassured that pulling the trailer didn’t feel that bad. While it weighs a lot more than my normal bike, it didn’t feel that much worse than riding a Bikeshare, which I use almost daily.

Overall, I’m very positive about our chances for having a good time doing the Tour de Cookie. I can always ply him with cookies, and if all else fails, Chris will have the car.

Women’s History Month Role Models – My Friends and Family

Photo: A woman in a pink shirt in front of a bike. Text:

Reading all of the wonderful stories of women being shared for Women’s History Month inspired me to think about the women who have influenced me. I realized that they fell into three categories: women I personally know, women (and girls) in pop culture, and women who have been major leaders in advocacy movements. This week, I’m going highlight my female role-models and hope you find someone to be inspired by!

What do you say when someone asks who inspires you? For me, it’s often the people I have a personal relationship with. Our greatest role models can be right in front of us.

My mom: My number one female role model in my life has always been my mom. As bonkers as we make each other – in that special way only mothers and daughters can – we love each other deeply. As a teacher in an inner-city school district, my mom instilled in me a dual love of learning and service. She was unrelenting in her dedication to her students, buying thousands of dollars in classroom supplies and more than once seriously considering fostering or adopting a student. She taught me what the word “privileged” meant before I ever heard the term, emphasizing that I was lucky to be both physically and emotionally taken care of. Reminding me that many children had neither of those – often, children she worked with every day – she taught me be grateful for what I have and help those who don’t. In her retirement, she’s volunteering at the local nature center and food bank. She’s also the one who inspired my love of cycling. While my family had always gone on short bike trips, her decision to bike 500 miles across New York State during my junior year of college motivated me to sign up for the AIDS Ride for Life. It was the first time I had ever done a major ride and made me a convert to cycling advocacy. In my family, my dad’s mom was the another major influence, whom I’ve written about before.

 

nancy-breen-at-first-carl-henn-memorial-ride.jpg

My friend Nancy, at the first Carl Henn Memorial Ride. 

Nancy Breen: On the bike front, Nancy Breen, the chair of the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee, is another real inspiration to me. I know she’ll probably raise an eyebrow at her name being on the list, but she totally deserves it. She’s been the chair of our all-volunteer committee for several years now and it’s a pretty thankless job. Besides motivating us to get into gear, she’s spent endless hours with our city’s Mayor and City Council, whose meetings regularly run to midnight. She’s spoke in front of local policymakers on topics varying from police training to bike lanes. And she does all this in the very male-dominated field of bicycle advocacy. In fact, I think Nancy is a big part of why women are well-represented on RBAC and our concerns are heard. I’m also putting a major shout-out to my friend Sophie Chan-Wood, who does a lot of our group’s marketing and is the Rockville Roll Model for the Washington Area Bicyclists’ Association’s Women and Bikes program.

Sister Lucy Poulin: Lucy is the toughest nun I have ever met. Admittedly, I haven’t met that many nuns, but she is a total badass. She founded Homeworkers Organized for More Employment in the 1970s in very rural Maine and still runs it. (She had co-run it with fellow awesome nun Sister Marie Ahern until two years ago, when Marie passed away.) What started as a simple co-op for crafters expanded to a substantial network of services including multiple homeless shelters, a food bank, a soup kitchen, a land-trust program that helps people build their own houses, an alternative high school, and much more. In addition to the main campus, she’s the matriarch of a rambling farm property. Chris and I volunteered at HOME for about a month and stayed in a plumbing-free house next to a lake at the farm. We ran the summer day camp, which at that time was down to 3 girls. Two of the girls were sisters and came from an incredibly tough background – they lived in one of the homeless shelters and their mom was a user and seller of illegal prescription drugs. Living and working there was super-hard and rewarding. But we had the luxury of it being temporary. Lucy deals with some radically difficult people, both those seeking services and volunteers, day in and day out. I saw her frustrated and even angry, but never impatient or mean. Most importantly, she created an atmosphere of fundamental equality. If you were more than a short-time volunteer, no one made the distinction between you and someone who needed paid work. It was never said but widely acknowledged that we all needed to be there, even if it was for different reasons.

Sylvia Robinson: Sylvia is another local activist that is the heart, soul, and backbone of an essential community organization. Leaving her steady job, she sunk her entire life savings into pursuing her dream of establishing a community center for her neighborhood. Housed in a impressive and historical but crumbly brick building in the DC neighborhood of Pleasant Plains, the Emergence Community Arts Collective hosts dance classes, children’s summer programs, poetry open mics, swap meets, and support groups. Through the organization, Sylvia has also led several projects delving into the history of the neighborhood, with a particular focus of highlighting the contributions of black women. I had the pleasure of knowing Sylvia when I volunteered for Ecolocity, a Transition Towns group that focused on sustainable food. She gave us free space for meetings and events as well as use of the building’s yard for a community garden and mini-food forest. Despite the fact that running your own non-profit is relentless, she was always willing to give our group time and energy as well. I’ll also offer a shout-out to my friend and fellow Ecolocity volunteer Gerri Williams, who now lives in Duluth, MN and co-hosts a radio show.

All of these women are dedicated to their greater community without losing sight of the individual relationships that truly make up that community.

Who are the female role models in your life who have inspired you the most?

Envisioning the Future of Family Bicycling

Being in the middle of a burgeoning movement is exciting; being in the start can be pretty lonely. Fortunately, the bicycling for transportation movement in the U.S. is starting to embrace its more youthful sibling, the family biking movement. Last weekend, I attended the Washington Area Bicyclists’ Association (WABA) first D.C. area Family Biking Town Hall.

The event began with participants rotating through a series of stations, each inviting our input on a different subject. The topics ranged from ideas for the perfect family biking event (my favorite is the ABCs of Family Cycling) to best blogs for family cycling. They even asked to how to make the 50 States and 13 Colonies Ride more family-friendly. I think my best input was the important advice to try equipment with your kids before you buy it, so you don’t end up with a trailer your kid doesn’t like, as we did.

Besides the stations, I was glad for the opportunty to connect with some biking folks I haven’t seen in a while. While I expected to see the leaders of the DC and Gaithersburg Kidical Mass rides, I was pleasantly surprised to run into a prior member of the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee who as far as I knew had disappeared off the face of the earth. As it turned out, he had been a little closer – in Colorado, on a contract. Previously, he had helped us run bike rodeos for kids, so I was glad to see that he was still engaged in youth education. Sometimes, this city is so small and so full of talented, passionate people.

The WABA education director than gave a brief presentation that led into the main discussion. WABA acknowledged that they had been remiss in the past when they had frequently ignored the needs of families. One of the main problems is a simple lack of experience – only 1 of their 13 staff members has children. Considering the average salary of a staff member of a small non-profit and our local living costs, this fact didn’t exactly surprise me. Nonetheless, he said that WABA has realized that family cycling is “bleeding edge” and wants to ensure DC is one of the leaders in this next big step forward. While they can’t dedicate any specific staff members to the issue, they hope to integrate families into their current efforts and start some new family-oriented programming in the future. They finished with a pitch for their holiday party, which unfortunately reinforced their focus on young 20 and 30-somethings, as it was at a bar on a weekday night. At least they’re honest about their room to improve.

The discussion began with a broad visioning effort to describe an ideal family-biking location, then quickly broadened to include infrastructure needs, advocacy efforts and resources.

One thing everyone could agree on is that we want family bicycling to be normal, the way it is in Amsterdam and Japan, land of the “mommy bike.” Whether it’s pediatricians, drivers, or even other cyclists, we’re sick of people second-guessing our parenting and transportation decisions. As Megan from Kidical Mass DC said, we’ll have reached our goal “when people bike with their kids who didn’t bike before” simply because it’s the easiest, cheapest, most sustainable way to get around.

We also universally agreed that there’s a lack of centralized resources on family biking for current and expecting parents. While there are some home-grown blogs and a smattering of articles, there’s nothing that can walk people through all of the possible equipment, its advantages and disadvantages, and the process of actually choosing which one would work for them. One of the participants imagined a future where expecting parents learned about family biking options before they arrived at the hospital, just as they do now with car seats.

A desire for more protected bicycle infrastructure that is segregated from traffic was another common theme. What works for an experienced cyclist won’t necessarily work for a mom on a bakfiets maxing out at 10 mph or an eight year old on her own bike.

We also discussed the need to include parental voices in the policy conversation. One woman from Fairfax bemoaned the lack of female representation on bicycle advisory committees, as women are more likely to bring up issues relating to families. Fortunately, DC actually has strong representation in this category – the heads of both the Rockville and Arlington groups are women and at least half of Rockville’s committee is – but we can always do better. Another major problem is that a lot of the city meetings where people give testimony are very difficult for parents of young children to attend. WABA seemed interested in helping people know when and how to submit written comments as well as gathering testimonies to present at city hearings.

While none of this will happen overnight, it was encouraging to connect with other folks concerned about the same day-to-day issues and see a (bike) path forward. I’m excited to see what WABA will do with our input.

Unfortunately, almost every time I attend a family biking event, the commute reminds me of how far we have to go. The original plan was for Chris to drop me off after church and then drive home for Sprout’s nap. I would then get a Bikeshare bike and pedal two miles to the most convenient Metro station. The first hurdle was that the two closest Bikeshare stations were completely empty, forcing me to walk more than 1/3 of a mile to pick one up. Once I finally checked out my bike, I pedaled toward the National Zoo, only to find out that the road looping up and around the zoo was closed for construction. As the only other option was miles out of the way, I ended up walking my bike all the way up the zoo’s main path, which is a mile-long hill. It was only until I reached the parking lot that I was able to pick up a road. I ended up only biking a half-mile of the 2 mile trip, making it take more than twice as long as it should have.

Even though I don’t haul Sprout everywhere by bike (yet), I look forward to the day our vision is fulfilled and owning a cargo bike will be just a normal as owning a minivan is now.

Fighting the Good Fight for Family Biking

Early November is a challenging time to bike. In my region, it tends to be cold, windy and wet. So I really wasn’t looking forward to our last Kidical Mass ride of the season, a joint ride with our sister group in nearby Gaithersburg.I was tempted to cancel our half, considering the low temperatures. However, the city had promoted it in both their monthly newsletter and their Facebook page, so I felt obliged to show up in case anyone from Rockville trekked over. Despite a few literal wrong turns, I’m glad I went. My ride to the meeting place and lunch with fellow family biking advocates highlighted a number of our shared challenges.

Our meeting place was about eight miles from my house, so it was too far to bring Sprout in the trailer. As the car trunk doesn’t fit both the bike and trailer, I rode there towing the trailer while Chris drove himself and Sprout. Unfortunately, I got rather lost on the way. While my intended route wasn’t ideal, my detour truly illustrated the infrastructure barriers families face in using cycling for transportation. I cycled over paths and curb cuts that were so bumpy and narrow they’d be uncomfortable or even unsafe for a kid in a trailer. Multi-use trails paralleling major, high-speed roads ended abruptly, forcing me onto the sidewalk. Even those were piecemeal. One sidewalk was split by a single piece of property with a fence, rendering the entire sidewalk on that side of the road useless. Crossing signals at intersections were too short, infrequent or non-existant. Intersections at major roads lacked islands to stand on as you crossed multiple lanes of traffic. I was very glad I didn’t bring Sprout – I would have been quite nervous about his safety.

In contrast, my destination – one of the first planned “smart growth” communities in the country – it was lovely. The residential roads had street parking, but were relatively quiet. A whole network of trails connected different parts of the development.

Moving from one area to the other, it was obvious that while there are islands of high bikability, they’re separated from each other and riding between them is problematic. I’m fortunate to live in one of those islands, especially one that’s well-connected. But the further you go out in the suburbs and away from the semi-urban core, it becomes increasingly more difficult. While it’s nice that people can ride around their neighborhoods, achieving even a “car-light” society where people can rely on biking, walking, and transit for their transportation needs requires a much more comprehensive, connected system than we have now.

When I finally arrived after my misadventure, the ride ended up being me, Sprout, and the Kidical Mass Gaithersburg organizers. We went ahead anyway, believing seeing families out and about on their bikes in such brisk weather sent an important message to the community. Afterwards, we went to the Farmer’s Market and a cafe, where we discussed the particular issues we face with family biking.

One problem we kept coming back to was a lack of understanding of family biking from pretty much everyone, non-cyclists and cyclists alike.

On the non-cyclists’ side, there’s the eternal cry of “But it’s not safe!” The Gaithersburg folks told me that their elementary school won’t allow students to bike there, even though the school is inside a neighborhood designed to be walkable and bikable. If that’s a rule in a “smart growth” community, the rest of us are doomed. Perhaps most frustratingly, the school appears completely uninterested in changing that status quote. The cry of “unsafe!” shuts down the conversation instead of opening it up to the question, “What can we do to make it safer?” Besides just benefitting students, answering that question could help everyone – the school is next to a large park that’s a prime biking location.

Within the cycling community, one fundamental disagreement we have is with “vehicular cyclists.” This group believes bicyclists are the safest and best off when they act and are treated like cars by always taking the lane. While there are plenty of quiet, residential streets where that’s a fine approach, holding it as a philosophy on which to base infrastructure policy decisions is fundamentally incompatible with family biking. Parents who bike with their kids are already nervous enough, when both the American Pediatric Association and Consumer Reports emphatically state use a bike seat or trailer anywhere there might possibly be cars. So to expect parents to take the lane in streets with speed limits above 25 mph or that have stop-and-go traffic is unrealistic. Sticking to the slowest of streets may work for recreational rides, but there’s no way to ride for transportation without a busy road blocking your way, especially in the suburbs. Then of course, there’s the issue of what to do once kids get older. For kids to be able to ride to school or stores on their own bikes, we have to have places they can ride safely as well. If we want parents and children to ride for transportation, we have to provide infrastructure they are comfortable with, such as protected bike lanes and good, well-maintained multi-use paths. Neither on-road cycling or protected infrastructure are the be all end all of biking – rather, having both as viable options is important if we want to make family biking a reality.

Lastly, there’s a bit of a culture gap between the majority of biking advocates in D.C. proper and the suburban family biking crowd (all two of us). People who lead large group rides that attract young professionals don’t have a lot of advice for marketing to families or reaching out to schools. Folks who are used to dealing with biking infrastructure in the city aren’t as familiar with the suburbs’ opportunities (lots of space for protected bike lanes and multi-use paths!) and challenges (everything else). While these aren’t anyone’s fault, they’re another set of communication issues to work on.

Lately, I’ve been telling people that family biking is the “next big thing” for biking in America. But it can be lonely working on something just starting to get off of the ground. It was good to connect with my fellow Kidical Mass leaders to share frustrations and compare notes.