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When a child rides alone: A test of our kids and our streets

Posted by on November 5th, 2013 at 8:15 am

Eleni rides home alone-1

On her own: Would our streets — and my daughter — pass the
solo biking test?
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)

I recently — and surreptitiously — followed my daughter Eleni as she rode home from soccer practice by herself. She’s almost 11 years old now and we’ve just recently started to let her do this. I followed her because I was curious to know how she would ride without me or her mom offering that perception of protection that our proximity provides.

If you have children (or even if you don’t), I’m sure you can relate to the mix of emotions that occur when you allow your own flesh and blood to become a full-fledged “vulnerable” road user. I was also curious if our neighborhood streets would live up to their reputation as “family friendly.”

We’ve been riding with Eleni ever since she was baby. She’s gone from a Burley trailer, to a rear-rack seat, to a tag-along, to her own bike all without much incident (besides a self-inflicted fall or two). Along the way I’ve always shared my tips, advice, and admonitions whenever we ride together: “Remember to always look and listen at intersections, whether you have a stop sign or not!”; “Never assume a car will stop for you!”; “Use your hand signals!”; “Watch for those car doors!” and so on and so forth.

With Eleni, I can never tell if I’m bugging her or if she’s actually absorbing the information. I figured secretly following her home was the perfect way to see if she’s been paying attention all these years.

When her practice ended, she mounted her bike (with her shin guards and soccer cleats still on). I was anxious as she rolled eastward from Arbor Lodge Park in north Portland. The first thing I noticed is that she was riding a bit too close to the curb (see lead photo). Then, her first stop-sign controlled intersection came up. It was a four-way stop, so I wasn’t too worried; but I still breathed a sigh of relief when she calmly came to a stop, looked both ways, looked both ways again, and then continued on…

Eleni rides home alone-2

(Note: These photos were taken with a telephoto lens, so I was further behind than it appears.)

Then, the first big test: She’d been hugging the curb too much (I thought) and a parked car was ahead of her. Just as she moved left to avoid it, another car started coming the other direction. Thankfully, the person driving the car saw her, slowed, and gave her plenty of room…

Eleni riding home

After another stop sign where cross traffic (which included a huge speeding truck!) didn’t stop, she was onto her first major intersection (N Dekum and Interstate). At this point, she was onto an official “neighborhood greenway” route, and I was happy to know that the traffic signal has been engineered specifically with bicycles in mind. Right on cue, the light sensor noticed her presence, changed to green, and she made her way across the MAX tracks and back into the neighborhood streets. From this point on, she followed sharrows all the way home, across the Bryant Street Bridge (which is only for walking and biking) over I-5, and then a few blocks on the Michigan Avenue Neighborhood Greenway…

Eleni rides home alone-4

Eleni rides home alone-5

Eleni rides home alone-6

Eleni rides home alone-7

Eleni rides home alone-8

This experience was just as much a test for Eleni as it was for me. In some respects, it was also a test for the City of Portland as to whether our streets are safe enough to be navigated without incident or fear by a 10-year-old. I’m happy to say that PBOT passed with flying colors. There are several neighborhood greenways that overlap in this area, which means there are speed bumps, new 20 mph speed limit signs, and a general expectation of bicycle traffic. The bike-timed light at Interstate is a huge bonus (although the green phase is a bit short in my opinion), as are the sharrow markings and the carfree crossing of I-5 via the Bryant Bridge.

But this was a very simple test and I recognize that not everyone in the city can ride from a park to their home in such tame conditions.

As I thought about this post, I wondered how this experiment would have played out in other parts of the city where large arterials are the norm and destinations are further apart. I’ll look for opportunities to do this again and will report back if I can.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear from parents out there: Do you let your kids ride in the street alone? If so, how old are they and what has your experience been? If not, what holds you back?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • John Liu
    John Liu November 5, 2013 at 8:22 am

    My son has been riding his bike to school since age 11 y/o – actually he switches around between modes, those being skateboard, unicycle, and bicycle, tending to use the bike when the weather is bad. His ride is much shorter and on quieter streets than what you described. I confess that I have no idea how safely he does or doesn’t ride. No incidents so far.

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  • Joe November 5, 2013 at 8:40 am

    I have 2 girls that are 12,13 and have rode them in bike seats and pulled trailors with them in it, they have been riding since 18mos old. This year we let them ride solo without me in Wilsonville Oregon I was sooooo worried but told them to please obey traffic laws and look out for eachother along with the fact that all my yelling at cars here I hoped taught them that this place has along way to go before ppl really respect bike traffic. I’m total carfree dad hoping they see that one can live outside the box in my eyes. * we got some green paint near I-5 fwy *
    cars and fast traffic is a huge issue here along with clean and safe bike lanes… bottom line I feel Portland has a huge jump on the bike infra more so say then the burbs. What happens the most is no yielding to slower traffic cars zoom by and cut peds and cyclists off here, so a bike buffer and good signs is the only way to cure this issue I feel, oh I could go on and on but will stop 🙂 lived here 6 years and place is growing with more autos on the roads 🙁 I ride from here to Portland all the time its like a huge remote island that lacks connections outside. Simple fact ppl love their cars here.

    Glad you started this streets thread, means alot towards the Future of our kids staying safe on the road.

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  • Nathan November 5, 2013 at 8:40 am

    It looks like she knew the route pretty well already. Great!

    Working with any new rider, route finding with bike maps is a very important process to learn. It lets the rider avoid a lot of compromising locations before disembarking.

    City bike maps are free at pretty much every bike shop around!

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  • Patrick November 5, 2013 at 8:42 am

    My daughter began riding on her own at about 9-10. One disturbing thing we noted that SOME drivers will intimidate young riders in a way that never occurred to us riding together. A few of the harassment stories my daughter told me could only be explained by small minded people taking their aggressions out on the most vulnerable.

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    • rob November 5, 2013 at 9:23 am

      I worry more about a different and somewhat opposite safety problem. When I ride with my daughter, I notice many instances where overly friendly cars yield to us when it is not our right of way. Often, this occurs when other traffic does not also yield. I worry that my daughter, riding alone, will be encouraged to enter into traffic by one of these well meaning motorists and then get hit by other traffic that is not required to stop.

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      • El Biciclero November 5, 2013 at 10:05 am

        I swear I am going to get a shirt that says “JUST GO!” on the front in big letters. Almost every day, I get some “nice” (admittedly well-intentioned) motorist who will attempt to relinquish right-of-way to me, not realizing that unless 1 or 2 others do the same, it isn’t going to be safe.

        When I’m on my bike, I honestly don’t know whether the majority of this kind of behavior is motivated by “niceness” or by just enough ignorance of the rules to make people think that somehow “bikes always have right-of-way”. Either way, it is usually more harmful than helpful.

        My kid isn’t nearly old enough to ride on his own, but my fear in situations like this is that while I know the rules and will wave drivers on or ignore them in favor of the actual law and/or safety, a kid might feel much more intimidated by an adult “telling them” to do something and feel pressured to “obey” such misguided instruction from a motorist.

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        • El Biciclero November 5, 2013 at 11:43 am

          I should say, “intimidated by OR trusting of” of an adult.

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        • davemess November 5, 2013 at 12:40 pm

          I personally find it patronizing. “Look I NEED to stop at this stop sign, just go!”

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          • GlowBoy November 5, 2013 at 1:17 pm

            Sometimes this patronizing behavior drives me insane. It reinforces the message that we poor helpless cyclists are in terrible danger, and need motorists’ pity and/or help to get home alive. I usually stand my ground, point up at my stop sign, try to yell something about them having the right of way if their window is open, or sometimes simply scream “GO!” if they aren’t getting it.

            Fortunately I don’t encounter it too much when I’m riding alone, except occasionally in places where people aren’t used to seeing bikes. But it happens ALL THE TIME when I’m with my kid. Regardless of whether we’re on separate bikes, the cargo bike or a tow-behind. Some people, when they see a child, lose all sense of reason and decide they need to stop and yield to us no matter what. Even when we have a stop sign and they clearly have the right of way.

            And when there is a kid involved, it often takes several seconds longer to get them to go again. By which time, all too often cars back up behind the one that improperly stopped, with the same “oh-there’s-a-kid” instinct taking over each driver’s mental functioning. These subsequent drivers don’t understand what’s going on, all they can think is there’s a kid apparently trying to “cross”, so they all stop too in turn (sometimes in both directions), even if I try waving them past. A couple of years ago I had this go on for quite a while. I really wanted to wait for cross traffic to clear, but with most of the drivers stopping in turn the queues just weren’t clearing, and finally a couple of cars came up behind me, with one of the drivers behind me yelling “just go already!” So gave up the battle and went. And sometimes that’s still what I end up doing. As much as it pisses me off, once traffic starts backing up behind one of these drivers, if I’ve got my kid with me I know it’s going to be a battle and I usually just give up and go, because I’m so tired of fighting this fight.

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            • GlowBoy November 5, 2013 at 1:29 pm

              I should add that (like Biciclero’s) my kid isn’t riding alone yet, but will be before too many more years are out. The driver behavior we’re describing is merely annoying (ok, sometimes infuriating) when we’re riding with our kids, but it could be genuinely dangerous to an older child who’s riding without adult guidance.

              It is way too easy for a driver to yield their own right-of-way without realizing that someone else might come along who also has right-of-way and doesn’t stop. This is not merely theoretical: I remember an Oregon case not too many years ago when someone sued a fellow driver who had waved them through, just before someone else came blasting along in the next lane, clobbering and severely injuring them. On a regular basis I find myself stopped for a pedestrian and letting them know I’m yielding to them, only to have another car come along (either in the next lane or in the other direction) who isn’t seeing or stopping. Seen a LOT of close calls when even an adult pedestrian forgets that my yielding doesn’t mean everyone else will. I try to teach my child to recognize these situations, but it takes a fair amount of maturity, judgment and experience to recognize them all — something a 9-12 year old doesn’t always have.

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              • davemess November 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm

                Not to mention dangers for all other road users who are following the correct (and rational) right-of-way rules!!!!!
                That’s what get’s me. By letting in that guy turning out of a parking lot, you are making the road more dangerous for me!

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      • gutterbunnybikes November 5, 2013 at 7:11 pm

        Though you all forgot the most annoying part of it (thought really the behavior is perhaps one of my biggest complaints of Portland drivers in general).

        How many times have you lost the traffic gap (on busier streets) you were planning on using when the person gave up the right of way? Happens to me all the time when I’m crossing Powell.

        Just take your right of way folks, I’ll get across.

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      • alliwant November 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm

        I have noticed the same thing. Not only are cyclists at risk of rolling out in front of other traffic, but the drivers that stop unnecessarily are putting themselves at risk too. Drivers, go with the flow. Stop if there’s a sign or signal or if a rider goofs up and does not see you. We’re not planning to burn the road up on a bike (mostly) so we will wait until it’s clear, if we don’t have the right-of-way.

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    • Jessie November 6, 2013 at 9:22 am

      I am not a child, but I’ve had a similar experience. A friend of mine and I used to have the same commute that involved biking a few blocks up Hawthorne. I would get harassed on a weekly basis and him almost never. It’s hard to say exactly why. I could have been riding more frequently at high traffic times than he was, but we both thought that at least part of it had to do with the fact that I was smaller and female and therefore an easier target.

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  • Jason H November 5, 2013 at 8:47 am

    As the father of a 9 year old daughter I can clearly imagine all the emotions you must have felt during this “test”, glad to see she has learned well the lessons she’s been taught on good cycling. My daughter goes to a language immersion school in Beaverton, so a bike commute isn’t an option, during primary school years at least, but I still try to encourage her to ride smart even in the neighborhood.

    BTW, did she catch on to you? Looks like the last few shots are were wide-angles, taken right next to her!

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 5, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      Hi Jason. Thanks for the comment. And yes, she did catch onto me a few blocks from home. My disc brakes squealed a bit and she recognized the sound!

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      • sbrock November 5, 2013 at 1:27 pm

        The squeaky disc fools no kid.

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  • Joe November 5, 2013 at 9:03 am

    So true Patrick my girls have told me the same thing like ppl honking for them to move when they have the right of way. Right hooks and speeding cars they know and have told me stories.

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  • Sarah November 5, 2013 at 9:06 am

    We are on the verge of letting our 11 year old ride to school and back. She walks right now. She used to ride to a further away school with her dad on a route that we’d never let her ride by herself, but this is only a mile and 90% of it is on a sharrow street. However, she has to cross SE 20th where many cars just don’t look for bikes as they shoot off of Burnside or out of the gas station parking lot, and she needs to ride for 2 blocks on 28th, which has no bike markings whatsoever. We have ridden it together frequently and she knows the route. I’m still holding back because she’s pretty lost in her own thoughts a lot of the time and I’m afraid she just won’t be alert enough on her own to be safe yet. We have also had a very negative experience with our son on 28th, where someone tried to shove him off his bike from a moving vehicle. It’ll take me a while to get past that one.

    On the other hand, our son has been riding on his own since he was 13 and I have never worried about it (other than that 28th incident). He rides all over the city at 15. So I know we’ll be there with her within the next year or so.

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  • SilkySlim November 5, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I’m more worried about Jonathan’s welfare when his daughter realizes his skill with a telephoto lens!!

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    • q`Tzal November 5, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      Or neighbors that don’t know that the teen girl is being telephoto’ed by her own father and not just some creepy guy.

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  • Bjorn November 5, 2013 at 9:32 am

    My parents expected me to bike to and from school when I had soccer practice and couldn’t take the bus starting at about 8. It was just over a mile with bike lanes and you had to cross a highway, but I did it along with 3 or 4 neighbor kids. That was about 25 years ago, curious what your parents policy on how you got to and from school/practice was Jonathan?

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    • davemess November 5, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      I had that same thought. I grew up about 20 years ago, and rode all over town (granted I grew up in the suburbs and I don’t think there was anything bigger than a 3 or 4 lane road, and we ALWAYS road on sidewalk). But every kid I knew did this. This was pre bike helmets, and minimal instructions from adults (besides safety town), and there were very few injuries or issues.

      I know parenting has changed so much and most of the things that many of us did as kids would almost get our parents put in jail these days, but why has it changed so severely, and are we all just overprotective these days? I almost think the suburbs would be WORSE to have a kid cycling these days than in Portland.

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      • Barbara Stedman November 5, 2013 at 1:24 pm

        A good read on modern parent paranoia and safety above everything else is Lenore Skenazy’s Free-rage kids ( The constant noise from media about (perceived) lack of safety is a big part of the problem (although crime rate is on the lowest level since the 50ies). Shifting social norms is another. A lot of people think it’s strange that we let our kids walk alone to and wait at the school bus stop in our uber-safe neighborhood.

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        • davemess November 5, 2013 at 1:57 pm

          I read some stat a few years ago, that there are single digit child abductions by strangers a year in the US. Yet it is ingrained in every person’s mind (stupid movies), and everyone is terrified of it. Same goes with getting rabies! (sorry has nothing to with this, but I’m an immunologist and that one drives me crazy, getting rabies is also single digits a year in the US).

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          • Barbara Stedman November 5, 2013 at 2:46 pm

            Not exactly single digits, but the number of stranger abductions (most abduction cases are custody cases) with 150 cases per year in the US is really low. That is a chance of 1:1.5 Million that your child will be abducted (better idea to play lottery). Half of these kids return within 24 hours. Sadly, people don’t understand statistics. And of course you hear about every single one of these cases (and those in other countries) over and over again, so that people think that the world is a dangerous place.

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            • Marne November 6, 2013 at 11:52 am

              I started letting my son ride home from school alone two days a week this year, and I was so shocked (I guess I shouldn’t be) that the most common reaction from friends and family was concern about being abducted.
              Sadly, he has already had an incident; being hit by someone backing out of their driveway.
              We took a few weeks to regroup, and we’re back at it.

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  • indy November 5, 2013 at 9:33 am

    My kids live in the Macadam/John’s landing area, and take SW Virginia Street to Sunstone Montessori.

    Cars regularly go 35-40 in this 25 mph zone, so it’s unsafe to ride our bikes *7 blocks to school.* To car’s credit, there aren’t many speed limit signs, and those that exist have tree-cover over some of the sign.

    The irony? It’s frequently other parents that are speeding their kids to school.

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    • A.K. November 5, 2013 at 9:42 am

      Call the city and notify them of the trees covering the limit signs. Maybe they can add those orange flags to the signs (like they do for new installations) after pruning is done to bring attention to them.

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    • Dan November 5, 2013 at 10:15 am

      We’re about 5 blocks away from our school in the suburbs, and only have neighborhood streets to navigate. But it’s dangerous biking there because of the sheer number of cars & SUVs dropping off kids, who also live just a few blocks away. It’s sad. The bike racks there are mostly empty, except on ‘bike to school day’.

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    • Ted Buehler November 5, 2013 at 11:42 am

      indy — email and ask them to put up a “Smart Cart” on SW Virginia for a week. It’s a trailer with a speed reader mounted on it, so it tells all the cars how fast they’re going.

      See the top row on this page

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    • Paul Souders November 5, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      We have a 10mi school commute from SW PDX to inner SE. The worst two blocks are usually the last two, near the school (which is just off perhaps the busiest bike route in the city).

      Lenore Skenazy in her book had a stat this this effect, that parents driving THEIR kids to school are the greatest danger to YOUR kids. And thus you drive YOUR kid thereby endangering SOMEONE ELSE’S kid…

      Weird contrast to my childhood in the 70s/80s when I, like most of my friends, rode or walked 1–3mi to school. The only kids getting dropped off were tardy, or special cases for some reason (e.g. broken leg, Dr. Appt., bringing a big science project, etc.)

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  • rob November 5, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Interesting kids bike. Is the front wheel smaller than the back?

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    • SilkySlim November 5, 2013 at 10:30 am


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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm

        yep. It’s an Islabike. She loves it. Very responsive and easy to ride. We’ve recommended it to many friends.

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        • Joseph E November 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm

          My 5 year old loves his Islabike. It looks like we will need to upgrade to the next size soon, though. He is already at the minimum insertion mark on the seatpost of the 16″ wheel CNOC. Perhaps most people have their kids ride with the seat too low?

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          • Psyfalcon November 5, 2013 at 1:16 pm

            Most people ride with their seat too low.

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          • Barbara Stedman November 5, 2013 at 1:33 pm

            I would think a 16″ bike is too small for a five year old. My kids were on 20″ bikes by then. But then my kids are tall. Kids need their saddle lower than adults, though, as they need to be able to safely put the foot on the ground while still sitting on the seat.

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  • Marshall November 5, 2013 at 9:43 am

    The riding too close to a curb thing is tricky. Here in Monmouth, we get a reminder email from public safety every year that bikes need to ride as far right as possible. But, as you note, that’s a good way to stay hidden from oncoming traffic until it is too late. So which do we risk, a ticket or our lives?

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    • John Lascurettes November 5, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      It’s not as far right as possible, it’s as far right as practicable. That is the way the law is written anyway. As far right as possible would mean constantly hugging the curb. As far right as practicable means as far right as you can consistently operate and do so safely – which includes holing a relatively straight line and not swerving in and out between parked cars, around storm grates, etc.

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  • sadlycynical November 5, 2013 at 10:11 am

    This is great. Though, I’m reminded how seemingly carefree (or careless?) my parents were about me riding my bike clear across town at the same age (in the early 80s).

    Makes me feel that while we have more work to do, we’re at least making progress.

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    • gutterbunnybikes November 5, 2013 at 10:02 pm

      I personally don’t think there is a bit of difference between now and then, other than the bike industry has decided to push “safety” as an add-on sale at the point of purchase. That and people are more paranoid (in general) now-a-days. People drove fast, threw stuff, passed too close, didn’t pay much attention etc…. back in the 70’s and 80’s when I started riding and it’s pretty much the same now.

      I think the paranoid thing is more in effect than anything else. The internet has given us access to every little disturbing detail of “whatever” the story, new item, point of study there is, all the while further distancing ourselves from out neighbors and our geographic community. Throw in the fact that if “it bleeds it leads” one easily gets the impression that cycling is dangerous and the roads are full of people just out to “get you”.

      But you have to think about it (because few know or even bother to think about it) to realize that about as many people go over the Hawthorn bridge in a week that die in bicycle accidents in this country in a year, more people cross that bridge on a busy month than get injured in bicycle accidents in this country (according to better estimates which I admit ain’t all that great).

      Actually, there is one thing that has changed. H/E and electric cars…man those suckers are quiet. Use to be able to tell how far a car was behind you by how load it was without having to looking back, but those suckers will be half past me before I realize what is happening.

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  • Joe November 5, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I hear ya Sadlycynival my old home town had nothing Santa Clara Calif. but as a kid I rode eveything even if no bike lane was around, kinda how I still have to ride, teach the kids to be urban smart riding and be brave but not foolish. 🙂 look out for eachother and don’t attack how others ride until you understand what they have rode thru. oh Santa Clara and SF both places I spend most of my life riding have made huge changes for the better… yes crit mass helped make change when ppl died we rode on the street in 1 huge group with a cause.. we are traffic 🙂

    one day packs of kids will ride together getting to same place safe.

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    • Bill Walters November 5, 2013 at 10:39 am

      “One day”? That was the 80s; we BMX kids roamed mostly as packs. And may it be so again.

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  • Granpa November 5, 2013 at 11:02 am

    About 15 years ago I rebuilt, polished and painted a nice Raleigh 10 speed for my son. He was a freshman in high school at the time. Bright kid, very scholarly, clean cut, honest and honorable and somewhat of a head-in-the-clouds dreamer. He blew through a stop sign on his ride to school, T-boned a honda car and flipped over the roof of the car and landed on ass and ankles on the other side. He suffered no injury, but caused $1700 damage to the car. There is really no moral to the story. People make mistakes. Luckily it didn’t kill him.

    It was months before I could get him back on a bicycle, and that was a traumatic and cathartic ride on the Banks/Vernonia trail.

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  • Barbara Stedman November 5, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Living in SW Portland, letting my kids (9 and 6) ride by themselves is a problem because of the lack of bikelanes and sidewalks on the major street and non-existing neighborhood greenways. Even riding WITH them to school is no fun. We are mostly on neighborhood streets, but we have to ride a short stretch on SW Vermont between 30th and 35th, which suddenly narrows down, has no sidewalks (just a narrow gravel strip) or bikelanes and a speed limit of 35. It’s bad enough for adults. PBOT keeps promising to start the construction on the sidewalk and bikelane here, but it has been delayed again and again for the last two years (still waiting for the promised work start in October…). These 5 blocks make all the difference in letting my older daughter go by herself or not to school or Gabriel Park/SW community Center. I feel like she is mature and responsible enough to ride by herself (even more so since she did the BTA bike safety training at school), but that stretch is scary. So because of the 2 miles to school a quarter mile is scary she can’t go by herself.
    Capitol Hwy between Hillsdale and Mutlnomah Village (Multnomah Arts Center, Custer Park) is also not the greatest. It has a sidewalk at least on one side, but the bike lane on the other side disappears when the street narrows at the same time when it’s downhill and the cars speed up.

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    • davemess November 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm

      Why is Vermont so crappy? I used to hate that stretch when biking and running when I lived in the SW. Just embarrassing road design (or lack there of).

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      • Barbara Stedman November 5, 2013 at 1:20 pm

        PBOT has identified it as crappy and they had the money and design and everything ready for sidewalk and bikelane construction, but for whatever reason they have delayed the start of construction for two years now. The latest delay this summer was because bids came in too high. Not sure why it hasn’t been reposted on the procurement website yet.

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        • davemess November 5, 2013 at 1:59 pm

          Same issue for us in the SE with the 50s bikeway. Why do we not have city street crews capable of doing this?!?! (esp. 50s bikeway which is mainly just changing paint on the street!)

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          • Terry D November 6, 2013 at 8:07 am

            Anything with federal money has to be publicly bid out to the private sector. I do not know about Vermont, but the 50’s bikeway is federal money.

            PBOT SHOULD have an active transportation crew that’s sole purpose is to build and design sidewalks, greenways and bikeways on streets lacking facilities. It should have a steady budget and be constantly building…..but alas, in Portland we prefer free automobile parking on city streets.

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        • davemess November 5, 2013 at 2:00 pm

          Just makes me so sad that roads like this section of Vermont basically make you a prisoner in your own home (only able to “get out” via car). Just horrible all around.

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          • El Biciclero November 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm

            For all the complaining motorists do about paying gas tax, registration fees, and mandatory insurance, nobody mentions the most basic auto “tax”: being forced to own one in the first place.

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      • Barbara Stedman November 7, 2013 at 8:55 am

        Good news, PBOt finally posted the Vermont sidewal project on the procurement webiste today!
        So hopefully by spring we will finally have a sidewalk and bikelanes on Vermont between 30th and 37th. Not only that, it is part of the Illinois-Vermont Neighborhood greenway and will other treatments like reduced speed, additional pedestrian crossings and intersection improvements on the intersection with Terwilliger.

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  • Carl November 5, 2013 at 11:27 am

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read on BikePortland in a while. Inspiring and instructive. Nice work Jonathan. Nice work Eleni!

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    • Ethan November 6, 2013 at 10:39 am

      I’m with Carl. That is all.

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  • mabsf November 5, 2013 at 11:33 am

    All hail to Eleni! I am convinced that more women and kids on bikes will make life better for all cyclists.
    For parents wanting to get their kids street-ready, I can really recommend the Community Cycling Center Bike Camps – my 11-year old son did them and turned into confident rider who makes his own decisions.

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  • Zed November 5, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Dear League Cycling Instructors,

    Are the League of American Cyclists offering the Bikers Ed Program anymore, aka RideSmart also known as BikeEd, Road I, Road II, Kids I, Kids II etc? { }

    If so, that in itself deserves an article. I took Road I in Salt Lake City, Utah and learned more in that class than I had learned from 10 years of cycling.

    I would like to take a class again, if offered.


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  • Zed November 5, 2013 at 11:49 am

    *League of American Bicyclists

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  • daisy November 5, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    My 10 year old walks to school by himself. He and some friends have ridden their bikes, together, from one kid’s house to another. I’m not sure I’m ready for him to ride his bike to school alone, yet, though. He’d have to cross N Vancouver and Williams without lights, and people in cars and bikes aren’t exactly known for being courteous on those streets.

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  • Scott Mizée November 5, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Great article, Jonathan. …and I echo a lot of the thoughts and feelings expressed by you and the commenters above.

    You have a great connection between your street and Arbor Lodge Park. It only requires kids to CROSS one major road at grade and does not require children to navigate ALONG it any arterials.

    When my kids have practice at that same park, we find it much more difficult to allow them to ride alone due to the lack of a safe, protected east/west bicycle facility. For over a half mile, the busy arterials of Lombard and Willamette are the only options for east/west travel between N Woolsey and the N Wabash & Bryant intersection.

    I know and recognize that there are lots of infrastructure needs all over our city, but I hope that we can address this crucial gap in our bicycling infrastructure in the near future.

    Another North Portland Dad

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  • wsbob November 5, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    “…Then, the first big test: She’d been hugging the curb too much (I thought) and a parked car was ahead of her. Just as she moved left to avoid it, …” maus/bikeportland

    Where people riding have been riding close to the right side of the road, and that find themselves having to prepare to go around parked cars, use of hand signals to aid in doing that can be very beneficial. Movement helps other road users see people riding that are making such a maneuver. Arm out tells them definitely the rider is changing line of travel.

    About Eleni’s likely image presented for the purpose of visibility as a rider to other road users, I’d say there’s far too much dark; dark pants, socks, backpack, helmet (though it has a little red patch in back that stands out some.). The most visible part of the image she’s presenting, is the bikes’ silver fenders and her bare legs. Some people probably think that’s enough visibility, but I don’t, especially for a kid.

    Also, for whatever reason…no daytime running rear blinkie. Far older people than she, run daytime lights, back and front. Doesn’t cost more than about $30 for a better than average setup. For a kid riding the streets with quite a bit of traffic, daytime lights could help a bunch towards enabling other road users to see them.

    The streets’ ability to function well for biking can be sorely tested when people biking aren’t adequately prepared for the situation there.

    Great that she’s riding though, and that Maus took the opportunity to check how she’s doing when she rides by herself.

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  • Mike Szwaya November 5, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    We had our 12 yr old son take one of the Community Cycling Center summer camps before I was ready to let him out on the road. Even though he’s an experienced bike handler (4+ years of racing), there’s an enormous difference between negotiating a marked race course with static obstacles and an urban road with randomly moving hazards.
    A lot of the times we’d ride together I could never quite tell if the advice I was giving was being absorbed or not. I thought it would have been a lot harder for him to ignore a cycling instructor as opposed to me. I’d say that his road awareness and manners took a big step because of the camp.
    So we built up an old Gary Fisher into a singlespeed for him to take to school and back. His commute takes him from home (near Reed College) north to Hosford M.S. and requires crossing 3 major arteries; Holgate (way busier than you think), Powell, and Division. I try to push him towards using 33rd but I know sometimes he takes the faster route on 26th with its sh__y vanishing bike lanes. It has been noted on this site ad nauseam but it bears repeating – the quality of north-south facilities in this town is a joke.
    One last note – RoadID. One of the things that probably scared me the most was the ‘what happens if something happens’ issue. He carries no phone, no license and no insurance card. How would we get notified if something happened to him? Getting a RoadID was basically a requirement. Highly recommended if you let kids out on the road alone.

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  • RW November 5, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    Congrats, your kid knows how to ride! Good work. Next hurdle will be to get her through the safety in numbers vs crowd distraction debate.

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  • mws November 5, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    So scary to watch them ride off! I raised two kids in a rural area, which has its own set of challenges. Back then, drivers were not expecting anyone on a bike, even on the streets of our small town. (That has really changed in the last 10 years, fortunately.) The trip into town required a highway crossing, and sometimes involved wildlife interactions. We did a lot of practice runs, and then they just got big enough to do it themselves.

    It is our responsibility as parents to teach our kids to navigate the world. How is it ‘safer’ to turn a 16-year-old lose with the family car, especially if they have no experience out there in anything other than a car? My theory was that riding a bike teaches you to pay attention. You are vulnerable, and you would do well to remember that regardless of your choice of vehicle. Brave words–I still worry about them even though they are in their twenties.

    Oh, and make sure they know how to change a flat. 🙂

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  • Brian E November 5, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    My biggest concern is that juvenile brains make stupid choices and decisions. My experience and observations come from years of coaching youth sports teams. Even the smartest most trusted kid will totally blow it and pass the ball to the other team. And then say, “I didn’t mean to do that”. I think this applies to riding a bike in traffic. You need to prepare your kid for this effect?

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  • Beth November 5, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Nice writeup.

    My mother did the samet thing with me when I was ten. I’d come home with my broken glasses in an envelope one time too man (and as usual the bully’s bully of a parent gloweringly refused to pay the bill). So my mom finally gave in and let me ride my bike the four-mile RT to school and home. She followed behind me on a Sunday to make sure I knew the way and stopped at the stop signs and everything.

    Of course, it WAS a different time, on quieter streets with fewer cars and drivers who were more respectful of children walking and riding to school. And also, it depends on where you live. We’ve all heard stories of parents who get in trouble for letting their kids walk or ride to school in districts who insist that it’s unsafe and always will be… still, this is a great example of how to make it work.

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  • Tom McTighe November 5, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Excellent article! I went through the same progression from Burley cart to offering last-minute advice as they ride off. I had a friend from the Bronx whose parents followed her on the subway – twice – to first grade, then figured she was good-to-go.

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  • JRB November 5, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    A couple of folks have already referenced this but I am trying to reconcile my own childhood experience of riding a bike and the care and concern Jonathan exhibits about letting his 11-year-old ride alone for the first time.

    I was born in ’62 and got my first bike when I was 7 or 8 (a Stingray with a banana seat!) It was just normal and accepted that kids started riding around that age and continued to ride until they were old enough to drive. I lived in a town of about 40,000 outside of Chicago and we rode everywhere – to school, to each others houses, to Little League, to the community pool, to the downtown of our burg etc. Nobody thought anything of it. The idea that a school would prohibit students from riding to school would have been ludicrous.

    What has changed? Are the streets that much more dangerous? Are drivers much more inattentive and or hostile? Are parents overly protective today? Were our parents just more accepting of the risk?

    I cast no aspersions on anyone, I just find it sad that things seem to have changed so much.

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    • davemess November 5, 2013 at 5:09 pm

      And changed more recently. It was like that for my childhood and I was born in ’80!

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  • dwainedibbly November 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    At some point you just have to trust your kids. Letting them ride by themselves is a great way to show them that you trust them, and kids appreciate that. If you’re thinking of letting your child do something but aren’t sure, take that leap and let them do it!

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  • Jessica November 5, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Great article. Our history goes like this – bike trailer until 4-ish. Then Tag-a-long bike until end of 2nd Grade. On his own bike with a parent biking next to him 3rd – 6th grade. 7th grade – transition to solo-bike trips. 8th grade – completely on his own. Bike commute is from close-in Southeast, across Hawthorne Bridge to SW 12th & Main. Crossing the bridge is probably the most daunting part of the commute. And now he wants to ride home on his own in the dark. This mama is NOT ready for that yet. So – parents, when did you start letting your child ride in the dark? I’m not talking midnight…but 5 PM this time of year is pretty dang dark.

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    • Barbara Stedman November 6, 2013 at 9:32 am

      I would say that’s a matter of proper lighting and reflectors and not so much a matter of age (if you talk about 5 pm). After all you are talking about a highschooler. How much do you want to restrict him at that age? curfew at 4:30pm?

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    • wsbob November 6, 2013 at 11:10 am

      “…And now he wants to ride home on his own in the dark. …” Jessica

      As Barbara Stedman said, good lights and reflectivity could be what what your teenage son should have to ready him for riding home on his bike in the dark. Since he’s been doing the route in traffic for some time already in daylight, maybe he’s got the chops…effective signaling, good lane use, etc, to be able to ride at night in traffic with the addition of good visibility gear.

      The effectiveness, functionality, acceptance and affordability of good visibility gear steadily gets better. There are people that know what to get and how to effectively use and maintain it on their bikes, their clothes and other gear. And for people on a budget, there are deals out there, so it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to shell out for good visibility gear.

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  • AndyC of Linnton November 5, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Man, this is too awesome. Knowing that kids are out there doing this makes bicycling all the more amazing.

    One of my favorite memories from this last summer was seeing a young girl, around 13/14/15 years old coming toward me on N.Bryant St. near N.Willamette. on a Razor scooter talking on her phone!
    I thought the whole way home, “We’re winning. Slowly, but it’s definitely changing.”
    You’ve got a good thing going PBOT. Keep it coming. We definitely need more of this kind of activity on our streets.

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  • gutterbunnybikes November 5, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Honestly I find it all kind of funny, my wife is more prone to the worry of letting the kids go free than I am. I’m ok with them going solo in the neighborhood (or familiar routes) at about age 10.

    But I grew up riding in a city. By 11 I had a paper route and was out everyday for five years during the afternoon rush hour for the Detroit News, and at 5 am on the week ends. After the deliveries I’d ride around and collect the subscriptions as well – usually well after dark. Half the route was zig-zaging across the streets for paper boxes, the other half was the traditional toss to the front step (or at least near it).

    The only safety equipment I had was a squirt gun filled with with a 50/50 mix of bleach and water for the dogs – in the winter it was a stick since the cold would freeze the squirt gun ammo. And honestly, the first thing I did when I got my first work bike (Work edition Schwinn Cruiser -to replace the Huffy 12 speed I was using) was take the reflectors off. No self respecting kid kept their reflectors on the bikes back then.

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    • JRB November 6, 2013 at 7:56 am

      Yeah, I was an early bike commuter too. When I was 13 I rode my Raleigh 10-speed to my job as a golf caddy at the local country club. I had a paper route before that, but managed it on foot. My old man was very easy going but he put a lot of stock in an honest day’s work 🙂

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  • Jeff November 6, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Joseph E
    My 5 year old loves his Islabike. It looks like we will need to upgrade to the next size soon, though. He is already at the minimum insertion mark on the seatpost of the 16″ wheel CNOC. Perhaps most people have their kids ride with the seat too low?
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    If SE Sunday Parkways is any indication, effectively *all* kids ride with their seat too low.

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  • Terry D November 6, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Every school should have safe greenway access. It does not need to be direct, but interiors of every residential “super block” so to speak needs to have east-west and north-south greenway access to school. Thus, children could safely cross the arterials.

    It will be difficult to build a system like this when the city makes decisions like this:

    It is always easiest to cut money for “unneeded bikeway projects.”

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  • TOM November 6, 2013 at 11:07 am

    You trained her right JM ..(as to be expected) …those are skills that she will always retain.

    My son who is now 32 got started young too. The only incident that he ever had was coming home from school on a warm day (at about 9 y.o.). Took off his sweatshirt and draped it over the handlebars. YES..the arms drooped down right into his front wheel and bound up the bike. He went over the bars ..face first into Main St.
    Astoundingly the motorist behind him stopped and checked on his condition. They offered and he accepted a ride home in their car with his bike in their trunk.
    Normally this might be considered risky, but he’s a good judge of character . (Working on his PhD in psychology right now (and still biking))

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  • Doug B November 6, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Our daughter has been riding to and home from school for the last year, so started at 10. We are lucky in that all the roads she has to use have lanes or sharrows and most of the cross streets have guards on duty during the school period (she passes three other schools on the way!).
    It was a hard thing to do, but we are here to help our kids become independent persons, and getting to school by bike is a fantastic way to start.

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  • Carrie November 6, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    My oldest is a High School freshman and has to get herself to/from school. She usually takes the bus (because her friends all ride the bus), but if she wants to move quickly, she rides her bike.

    And my 5th grader rides his bike, with lights, the 0.75 miles to/from school either with us or with his “bike gang” of friends. I too followed him one day to see how he did on his own and was pleasantly surprised at his awareness at intersections and other ‘danger’ spots. (I’m also amused at how he seeks out puddles, instead of avoiding them like most of us adults :)).

    I feel incredibly fortunate to live in Portland, after living in Honolulu, where BOTH my kids can ride their bikes safely and unsupervised to school and to their friends houses. In Honolulu it was 100% not possible, even though the weather would suggest otherwise.

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  • Lee Erickson November 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    I wish my parents had taken the time to equip me for safely traveling the roads to and from class when I was in elementary school. How I survived I have no idea. The experience was always intimidating for me, and I felt incredibly vulnerable out there alone negotiating traffic. On my way home from school one afternoon, I was forced off the road into a ditch by a large dump truck with big side mirrors. Though badly shaken and banged up, I made it home in one piece. But I never rode my bike to school again. Since then, I have witnessed numerous bike accidents over the years. At one time, I worked as a vision therapist, helping both young children and adults suffering from head trauma, some due to cycling accidents. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” You are to be congratulated, as a parent, for taking precautions to ensure your child is ready to commute by bike, as one would with a teenager learning to drive a car solo.

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  • Monica November 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I have allowed my 9-year-old to ride on her Islabike for short distances (1 mile or less) during the day on “greenway” routes. However, I do instruct her to ride on the sidewalk on roads with fast traffic and narrow bike lanes (i.e. Willamette Blvd on the bluff going East) and walk her bike across cross-walks at busy intersections (Bryant and Greeley). I trust her, but I don’t trust the cars. Part of the issue is that on a 24″ bike, she is much shorter and (I fear) out of drivers’ fields of view. I also second the recommendations for daytime blinky lights and Community Cycling Center Bike Camp. I’m hoping to let her ride on more streets and in more conditions in the future but oh, it’s hard to take a deep breath when your baby is out on the road. How I dream for separated cycle tracks!

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  • Max October 4, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Great post! I rode with my daughter in Corvallis to school every day from the time she was in 4th grade (before that, it was only a block to walk there). After a few months, other parents asked if their kid could ride with us, and we had a “rolling school bus”. The illusion was that this would be “safer”. Truth is, I rode with my daughter every day because I enjoyed spending that extra time with her every day before work. One day, our “rolling school bus” came exhuberantly up to a stop sign, and despite my best efforts to get their attention, some of the kids at the front of the group rode right through the stop sign, until my daughter stopped. The reason for this post is to emphasize that you actually have no control over your kid when you ride with them, except that you encourage them to keep in mind what you have taught them. Tragedies can still happen. We rode every day, rain or shine, from 4th grade through 12th grade, together. Not because I didn’t trust her, but because I enjoyed the time with her. I tried a few days, stopping short of her school, because some of her friends had been making fun of her, that her dad was still riding every day with her. So I would hang back a block or two from the school. So she asked me why, and when I explained why, she asked me to ride the rest of the way with her, because she liked me to do that. She told her friends that it was odd they were making fun of her for riding with her dad, since they rode (in the car) with their own parents to the same school every day. It is not any more dangerous out there than when I was a kid. In fact, it is much safer and drivers are much more aware than they were in the 1960s, when I was delivering papers by bicycle in the Los Angeles metro area. You are an awesome parent! Keep riding! My daughter is now in grad school and prefers riding to work (or walking) to any other mode of transport. Life skills start at home.

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