BikePortland.org

Kids are the true indicator species of a bike-friendly city

Kids are a common sight on Copenhagen’s cycle tracks.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

There’s a popular idea in bike advocacy and planning circles that women are “the indicator species” of a bike-friendly city. In the case of Copenhagen, which went well beyond “bike-friendly” years ago and where more women ride than men, the new indicator is kids.

Young children ride bikes in Copenhagen in great numbers. And they do it by themselves through the city’s busiest intersections amid massive groups of riders. Before I came here, I expected to see lots of families biking together; but I wasn’t prepared to see so many kids riding their own bikes.

That’s just not something that you see very often in Portland. I know a few people who bike with their kids from North Portland to Emerson School in Old Town every morning (hi Amy and Hau!); but the only other time I see it is during Sunday Parkways. That carfree event is the closest we come in Portland to mimicking what it’s like to ride in everyday cycle track traffic here in Copenhagen. You know the feeling: There’s a huge mob of other people cycling around you and suddenly you no longer feel like a tiny any next to a massive machine that can crush you. Instead you feel relaxed, safe, powerful and confident. It’s that type of environment that allows kids to ride on their own.

When kids feel confident enough to ride on their own — and parents let them — then your city has truly earned the “bike-friendly” label.

Here in Portland, we’re just not there yet. Like I shared in this March 2010 editorial, the width of our bikeways is simply too narrow. It’s not easy for parents to ride beside smaller children, which is an essential step before they can ride completely on their own.

With just one more morning in Copenhagen, I figured it was time to comb through the 440 or so images in the photo gallery (thanks Pro Photo Supply!) and share the best kid-riding action shots. Take a look at them below and think about your gut reaction: Are you appalled? Does it make you happy? Do you think the parents should be thrown into jail?

If you ask me, these kids are one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen during my time here…

Notice that this young girl is riding on an at-grade sidewalk. That means the sidewalk continues at its same elevation across the driveway; putting cross traffic in the secondary priority and vastly increasing safety.
This little dude is waiting for a break in traffic before crossing over to the cycle track on the other side of the street.
Kids these days love to color coordinate.

For more images, check out the Copenhagen Photo Gallery and read all of our special coverage from Copenhagen here.