Families biking to school via Stanton Park

Washington DC has made great strides over the past decade towards creating a vibrant bicycle culture. How well does this extend to families so far? How can bicycling be more appealing to families?

Recent research has found that children who bike or walk to school perform better. A Danish study found that exercise, including from biking or walking to school, helped kids concentrate better, while chauffured children had a poorer grasp of geography, another study found.

In spite of the benefits, there are a number of reasons why families may not choose to or be able to bike. The reason I most often hear from parents is safety (even when biking is convenient). I feel the same way. Too often, I have found myself biking with my children, following all road and safety rules, only to be overrun by a driver who sees my small children as obstacles, not a family.

Mayor Gray’s sustainability plan sets goals for “safe, secure infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians” with a target to “increase biking and walking to 25% of all commuter trips.”

Part of this needs to be a concerted effort to focus on making it easier for children and families to commute to school and get around in general, by bike.

The city has programs aimed at stimulating families to bike. For families with school age children, the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) offers the Safe Routes to school program, run by Jennifer Hefferan. She works with schools to support various types of active transportation models, including biking. 

At my own children’s school, Jennifer has designed more efficient drop-off and pick up processes, helped us to get appropriate signage, and worked with us to develop a comprehensive longer-term safe routes plan for our school. On biking, DC’s Safe Routes program coordinated with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) to triple the number of bike racks for the school, as well as advise and support us on efforts like Bike to School Day and Fuel Free Fridays.

There are also advocacy organizations like WABA, who offer safety and skills education opportunities, including Bike Rodeos for children. KidicalMassDC promotes “safe, fun family biking in the Greater Washington area” by holding regular mass family rides and teaming up with DDOT, WABA and bicycle shops like BicycleSpace and the Daily Rider to host the ABC’s of Family Biking

Personally, I find programs like ABCs of Family Biking particularly compelling, because they bring together a comprehensive community of stakeholders invested in promoting family biking. There are opportunities to learn from each other, practice skills, and discover gear that makes sense for individual needs and lifestyles.

What seems to be lacking, however, is education (and skill-building) directed at drivers. Those who bike spend time learning how to co-exist with drivers, but until drivers learn to co-exist with cyclists, families will continue to face safety-related obstacles when considering whether or not to bike.

What obstacles do you see to getting your family or other families to bike?