‘Recalculating route’: let’s rethink our priorities

 The authors’ son rides his bicycle in the bike lane. Up ahead is a parked car blocking the lane. Photo: Alex Campbell

 Make biking safe for our kids

By Katherine Liston and Alex Campbell


As spring arrives, we have been reflecting on how lucky we are to live in a walkable and bikeable neighbourhood – but we also believe that we as a community can do better. Sometimes it seems that conversations overheard between parents and children walking or biking through the neighbourhood are dominated entirely by repeated warnings and reprimands for the kids about traffic and parked vehicles. We teach our kids to watch out for cars, to wear high-visibility clothing and to avoid disrupting the flow of traffic. Let’s instead put the onus on drivers to remedy safety concerns by modifying their driving habits.

We suggest we consider our own behaviours and take steps to create an environment more conducive to active transportation, especially for our kids. When driving, is it necessary to pass a cyclist at the first opportunity just to make it to a stop sign faster? Is it necessary to park in the bike lane for the most efficient drop-off or pick-up of a passenger? Is it necessary to always drive the maximum speed limit? What are the costs of behaviours that prioritize efficiency over safety?

These are exactly the behaviours that create an environment in which many parents don’t feel safe allowing their kids to walk or roll to school because of traffic safety concerns. They cost our kids the benefits of active transportation, which include a sense of competence, autonomy and independence.

Active transportation also has benefits for brain development and academic success, according to research by Active Living Research. With teachers raising concerns about decreasing attention spans and children who have difficulty sitting still in class, and with only 28 per cent of children aged five to 17 in Canada meeting the national guideline of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day, there has never been a better time to encourage kids to walk or bike to school.

In September, the Ottawa Citizen reported that 74 per cent of Canadian children, including 53 per cent of children who live within a 5-minute walk from their school, arrive at school by motorized transportation. In comparison, in many other urban centres around the world, cars, bicycles and pedestrians coexist.

We know there is an appetite in our community for more infrastructure that is friendly to active modes of transportation – in the most recent mayoral election, Catherine McKenney carried Capital Ward with 62 per cent on a platform of significant and immediate investment in bicycle and pedestrian friendly infrastructure.

With or without government investment, we can all help ensure our neighbourhood is one where children are free to explore by keeping in mind some of these best driving practices.

  1. Be aware of your speed. Studies indicate that pedestrians involved in collisions with a vehicle traveling faster than 30 km/h are far more likely to be killed or seriously injured. The Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals estimates that nine out of 10 pedestrians would survive a collision with a vehicle travelling 30 km/h; that number decreases to two out of 10 when the vehicle is travelling 50 km/h.
  2. Do not block bike lanes. Vehicles parking in designated bike lanes is a daily occurrence in our neighbourhood, and it poses a major safety risk, especially to kids who have a more difficult time joining the flow of cars and trucks to navigate around a stopped vehicle.
  3. Use the “Dutch reach.” When opening your driver’s side door, use your right hand, which automatically requires you to look over your shoulder to check for approaching cyclists. Remember that children may be lower than your window height, so in addition to a glance over your shoulder, look down and open the door slowly.
  4. Be aware of your vehicle’s blind zones. Vehicles, in particular modern SUVs and trucks, have increasingly large blind spots in all directions. “Frontover fatalities,” in which a child is run over by a vehicle slowly moving forward, are on the rise. An Indianapolis radio station had children sit in a line extending forward from the front of a 2019 Cadillac Escalade until the driver could see them – 13 children fit in the front blind spot of the vehicle.

It is up to all of us to make sure our driving habits create an environment where parents feel comfortable allowing their children to navigate our streets by foot or by wheel. We can all do our part to help make our neighbourhood one where kids can safely use our streets and sidewalks. This spring, we hope to hear more calls for drivers to “slow down!” and fewer admonishments for kids to “be careful!”


Katherine Liston and Alex Campbell live in the Glebe with their three young children.




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