Children today spend more time in cars than previous generations. They also spend less time playing on the streets and in unstructured and unsupervised activity outdoors. The lack of opportunities for physical activity and the loss of freedom to explore their local neighbourhood is bad news for children’s physical, social and mental well-being.
We know surprisingly little, however, about the detailed reasons for individual private car use. An international study highlights that households with children have higher rates of car ownership and use. In Australia, official statistics on transport pay a great deal of attention to the “journey to work”, but car travel that can be attributed to child-related activities has not been fully explored.
Research on children’s travel patterns tends to focus on the “journey to school”. While school trips are important, this provides only a narrow image of children’s actual travel patterns. They also make many trips to non-school destinations and extracurricular activities such as sport, music and dance classes.
We recently reviewed local government policies related to sustainable mobility and child-and-youth-friendly cities. Our review found little consideration of children and young people in transport planning policies across Australia. This is despite the fact that the decline in their walking and cycling rates was widely recognised.
All together, these suburban conditions add to the social disadvantage resulting from limited access to services and activities that are critical for families with children. This further encourages private car use.
Changing social structures mean families usually are on tight schedules. These changes include increases in employment for women and in the number of both single-parent families and families where both parents are in paid work. Because the car is relatively cheap and easy to use for individual mobility in Australian cities, it is generally the uncontested way to manage these schedules.
In addition, the increased individualisation as a common characteristic of Western societies usually means parents are expected to provide strict supervision of children’s movements. In the conditions described above, the most practical way to do this is usually to drive them in a car.
Of course this increases the number of cars on our streets, particularly around schools and other common destinations for children. This then perpetuates parents’ concerns about traffic safety, leading in turn to even more private car use.
What is perhaps most striking about the trend towards chauffeuring children is that these facts are seemingly becoming accepted as unavoidable outcomes of modern society. They are largely ignored in transport planning.
The importance of children’s role in sustainable mobility can be grouped under two themes.
First, children’s needs in today’s lifestyles mean they have an active role in contributing to increased private car use. The daily lives of families with children offer a good example of the context in which carbon-intensive travel patterns occur. If their mobility needs can be met more sustainably (even partially) we are likely to achieve significant carbon savings.
A better understanding of children’s travel patterns would provide a solid foundation for sustainable mobility policies. Planning and transport policies that are responsive to children’s specific needs are likely to have more effective and longer-lasting outcomes, with many related benefits for social sustainability and public health.
This book should be compulsory reading for all Australian urban planners and city councillors. It’s about much more than just cycling – it’s about how the Dutch blueprint for Active Transport infrastructure to build urban vitality, CAN be translated and used in car-clogged US and Australian cites too.
The authors were the keynote speakers at the recent Australian Walking and Cycling Conference in Bendigo.
Chris & Melissa are giving a presentation and launching their book in Melbourne. If you have anything to do with planning for a safe and vital city, register now to attend.
In all Australian states and territories (excluding Northern Territory), it is currently mandatory for people to wear a helmet whenever and wherever they ride a bike.
Bicycle Network is recommending that mandatory bicycle helmet laws be relaxed with a five-year trial permitting people older than 17 to choose whether they wear a helmet when riding on footpaths or off-road cycle paths.
The full report with the recommendations, together with the study data can be read here.
You can help by being proactive about safety on a bike.
Lights and hi visibility clothing.
Research has shown a whopping 270% increase in driver recognition of a cyclist with a flashing rear light compared to without, while another study revealed a 33% decrease in accidents for cyclists equipped with daytime running lights.
Check out this report on a series of experiments to better understand how bicyclists can better be seen by drivers both during daytime and nighttime via the use of lights and high-visibility apparel.
Bicycle Network has conducted a study to review their policy regarding mandatory helmet laws in Australia and had an article about this in the latest In The Loop online magazine. They will announce their policy on 31st October.
Can the Dutch Strategy for Cycling Work in North America?
“Rather than view cyclists as little cars, we should view them as pedestrians with wheels. Then cycling no longer becomes about fitness or speed—it just becomes a slightly faster way of walking, albeit with wheels.”
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