Kids in traffic

I’m going south on Coburg Road, and I head through the light at Willakenzie — fairly major intersection on one of the busiest streets in town. I glance to the right as I’m almost through the intersection and waiting there in the bike lane on Willakenzie is a little girl, certainly no older than 10. She’s on one of those little pink bikes with the little 12-inch white tires. You know the bike I’m talking about. It’s more or less one of these:

There’s no adult in sight. She’s totally got her game face on. Helmet properly seated and strapped. Both hands gripping the handlebars. Staring at the traffic light, waiting for the green. She looks ready to rock. Based on my quick glimpse, whoever instructed her on how to ride in traffic certainly impressed on her the need to be vigilant and focused. But seriously? A 10-year-old girl riding in real-life traffic on a major arterial?

I guess I’m not sure what to think. At first I thought, where the hell is the adult?! Then I recalled that big fuss that broke out after a New York newspaper columnist wrote about how she let her 9-year-old son ride the subway by himself. People were outraged. But she completely defended herself, and I ended up buying into the basic idea of what she was saying: That being too protective of kids is “debilitating” to them. That letting kids accomplish things like this builds their confidence.

Sure, but how young is too young to be set loose alone on a bike on a busy street at about 5:30 p.m.? Come to think of it, what’s more dangerous: riding the subway in Manhattan or crossing Coburg Road during evening drive time?

I dunno. What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Kids in traffic

  1. Here’s a debate going on right now in the UK on this very issue:

    I think it’s very dependent on the child and the parents and their level of comfort. I’ve seen some 10 years olds who were much better riders than some 40 year olds I know and I’ve seen some 16 year olds who weren’t ready to walk down the sidewalk let alone bike on a busy street.
    One thing we can say is that with more kids out biking more often will actually increase the safety of those kids. The cities, states, and countries with higher cycling rates have lower crash rates for those cyclists. More cyclists, more recognition and respect.

    I’ll bet that little girl went through one of the BTA or other Bike Education courses that are offered through the school districts- it’s a 9-hour course that is pretty detailed on how to ‘drive your bike’.
    Generally 10 is a benchmark age for kids. For those who get the proper education it’s a good time to start thinking about cycling on their own, though route selection is an important part of that education too but sometimes you just have to deal with that Coburg/River Road/Chambers type road!

    Of course a lot of adults could use the kind of class offered to kids…. and GEARs just happens to offer them:

  2. Thanks for the links, Shane. I read the London Telegraph pro-con. They make good points on both sides. I’m inclined to side with the “pro” letting the kids ride alone to school. But the most convincing part of the “con” argument for me is not knowing how a child will react if something unexpected happens.

    Ultimately, though, I think you’re right. It is hard to make a blanket judgment based on age without knowing the abilities of the kid in question. Sort of like the helmet law: At 16 you don’t have to wear one anymore in Oregon — but some 16-year-olds are surely more ready than others to take on the responsibility of making that choice.

  3. If she manages to get through the next 4-6 years without becoming a mangled pile of asphalt and flesh, she’s going to be one of the coolest and together teenagers in town.

    Parents should all be more focused on the success of the end product they are running through their Dr. Spook assembly line and less worried about all the possible failures that can happen in the manufacturing process. Call it the dignity of failure – or just plain learning.

    If they did, maybe I’d have fewer narcissistic and aggressive 18 year old pricks threatening me with their trucks because I dared take the lane to make a left turn.

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