Fewer Kids Are Riding Bikes

Fewer Kids Are Riding Bikes

We owe it to our children to get them on two wheels

Posted on 30.07.2019

Why You Should Care That Fewer Kids Are Riding Bikes

In America, the number of kids who ride bikes has declined by 19 percent since 2007, and 2018 holiday bikes sales were down 10 percent from 2017. Advocates and industry analysts offer all sorts of explanations as to why this is happening, from the pervasiveness of video games and screen-based entertainment, to the highly structured and programmed nature of childhood recreation in general. But the most obvious and fundamental reason fewer kids are riding bikes these days is sitting right in your driveway.

It’s your car.

For all the stranger danger! and just say no! warnings that we’ve subjected our kids to over the years, the number-one threat to their lives is cars. Only guns come close. Therefore, everything that makes it possible for you to drive everywhere also serves to ensure that their environment remains deadly. The roads are far too dangerous thanks to all the car traffic, and even the sidewalks are bisected by active driveways. Car dependence also means our retail districts are no longer to human scale, much less the scale of a child; whereas once upon a time a kid may have ridden down to the soda fountain for an egg cream or whatever they used to drink, today it’s a Cotton Candy Crème Frappuccino® Blended Crème dispensed from a Starbucks surrounded by a hundred parking spaces.

On top of all that, our cars are only getting bigger and more powerful, and there are more of them on our roads every year. According to Federal Highway Administration data, as of 2017 there were about 272 million registered vehicles in the United States, up from 260 million in 2014. Furthermore, these vehicles are increasingly SUVs and pickup trucks with jacked-up chassis and higher horsepower, which means they’re more likely to kill. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that between 2014 and 2018 the number of kids who ride bikes regularly fell by one million—hardly surprising when you consider that the roads are ruled by motor vehicles so large that a child on a bicycle barely clears the front bumper.

All of this is fairly obvious to anybody who walks or rides a bike.


And what no city in America has done yet is to officially prioritize children’s lives over driver convenience by redesigning streets to that end and enacting policy to match, which is what they did in Amsterdam in the 1970s. Until that happens we’ll never break the deadly cycle that compels us to shuttle our children around in what are basically armored personnel carriers—until they’re old enough to take to the streets on bikes by themselves, at which point we treat them like criminals.

In the meantime, you really owe it to your kids to get them riding. It may take a little effort, but it’s far from impossible. And if you don’t they could resent you for it later.

Eben Weiss
Outside Magazine




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