Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Car Chorus of Summer

“Car!” This is the nightly chorus you would hear if you were to take a walk in my neighborhood around six o’clock in the evening. Even my 1.75 year-old joins in with glee! I grew up in a neighborhood with sidewalks, taking them for granted. In my current neighborhood, however, my hilly, curvy road does not have sidewalks, bike lanes, or even curbs. This neighborhood design flaw didn’t matter so much when I could walk my son in a stroller or his push tricycle. But now that my five year old is riding a bike, I’ve sprouted a few gray hairs that could have been prevented.
 
Experts recommend that kids ride on sidewalks until about age 10. Since that’s not possible in our neighborhood, my husband and I do our best to make sure our son is safe on the road. At least one of us is always out when he’s riding his bike. We insist that he ride on the right side of the road with traffic rather than against it, which admittedly is a work in progress. We taught him to use the brakes on his bike instead of using his feet to stop. We make sure he wears bright clothes so drivers see him. He’s worn a bike helmet since age two so that it would not be a big deal when he got old enough to really need it. And we recently improved the fit of his bike helmet. I did the Helmet Fit Test and spent some time fixing the straps—not a fun task, but well worth it. Since the little one does whatever the big one does (though a little more recklessly), she also wears a helmet.
 
First ride on the big boy bike!
Parents can do a lot to help kids be safe, yet communities also play a role in making it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to be safe. Cities and towns can now bypass an expensive process and lower speed limits on many neighborhood roads thanks to a 2013 Safe Streets Law. Washington’s Growth Management Act calls for cities and counties to promote physical activity through urban planning approaches (such as curbs, sidewalks and bike lanes). Research says that these approaches will actually increase physical activity among residents. Cities and counties also must have a plan for bicycle and pedestrian transportation.
 
Even though we don’t have anything resembling ideal street designs in my neighborhood, the homeowner’s association has taken some measures to make the roads safe. They added yellow traffic bumps to help slow traffic down throughout the community, and the speed limit of 20 MPH is well-posted. I’ve found that cars have been traveling a lot slower in our part of the street since we started using it more frequently.
 
Biking is a fun way to get my kids excited about being physically active. I’m excited because my husband and I just got our own bikes all fixed up after years of collecting dust in the garage. We also got a bike seat for the little one. Now we’ll be able to show the kids how to bike safely in our neighborhood, and expand our horizons to some of the great bike trails in our area where we can relax and have more fun doing family biking trips. Maybe this will prevent some gray hairs in the future.
 
Here’s to a summer and fall filled with safe biking (and fewer gray hairs)!
  
 
For more information:
  • See what Safe Streets are all about with Washington State Department of Health’s Safe Streets Fact Sheet
  • Find out the latest in keeping your little cyclist safe with Safe Kids Coalition’s Bike Safety Tips Learn how you can work with your community to make changes with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s A Guide for Community Action

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