Stop Driving Your Kids to School
Want to change people's minds about cycling? Start with the school drop-off and go from there.
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I am the father of a child who's almost three years old, and most mornings, I take him to his preschool by bicycle, just as I did with his older brother until he graduated to grade school and the bus.
Why do I do this? Is it because I love to ride bikes? Is it because I believe in their power to transform our cityscapes? Is it because I want my children to grow up taking for granted the idea that using bikes for transportation is a normal, practical, and healthy way to get around?
Sure. I mean all that sounds good, anyway.
But there's an even more urgent reason that I've transported my most precious cargo by bicycle all these years, and it transcends everything I mentioned above. Here is that reason:
Getting anywhere near a school with a car is a monumental pain in the ass.
If you enjoy driving to the airport, going to the mall on Black Friday, or the abject futility of automotive clusterfucks in general, then by all means, driving a kid to school is for you. If, however, you'd rather undergo colonoscopy prep than sit in traffic with a bunch of self-absorbed parents all competing to see who can get their little darlings closest to the entrance, then you'll do anything to avoid the soul-crushing indignity of this dehumanizing ritual. So while I'm a cyclist and therefore choose to circumnavigate the whole shitshow by bike, the truth of the matter is that if bicycles didn't exist, I'd probably be up on the roof of my building in a wingsuit and a BabyBjörn.
But as self-serving as my choice may be, I do allow myself to feel smug about it, because I know that I'm helping to make the world—or at least my neighborhood—a far better place. Parents get a bad rap for being selfish, and it's mostly unwarranted (if you don't wanna hear babies crying on airplanes, then buy a Gulfsream), but the one area in which they do deserve it is their propensity for causing traffic jams by sticking their cars where they don't belong. For years, I've been getting letters from both my kids' schools imploring parents to stop double-parking and making life miserable for everyone within a one-mile radius, and I smile to myself as I throw it in the trash knowing I'm part of the solution and not the problem. In fact, I’m this close [indicates tiny distance with fingers] to getting a “One Less Asshole Double-Parked in Front of the School” sticker printed up for my bike.
We're perfectly comfortable with the idea of cycling as a recreational activity involving thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and we're increasingly comfortable with the idea of cycling as a form of urban commuting. But until the bike truly becomes part of the family, it will always remain on the fringes.
Not all parents have a blithe disregard for the world outside their minivans. Some are just helpless victims of The Way You're Supposed to Do Things, and they go through the motions despite themselves, like the Day-O scene in Beetlejuice. These are the parents who will ask questions about my cargo bike and talk about how they too would like to take their kids to school this way. But it never seems to happen. The only change I see as the years go by are more speed bumps to slow the enraged drivers who mash the accelerator as soon as there's a lull in the parental motorcade. The irony of it all is that the roads are most dangerous in exactly the places where they should be the safest—all because of our insistence on driving kids to school.
Nevertheless, I certainly don't blame these parents for driving to school. A century of automotive marketing and lobbying has duped families into believing that the car is the responsible choice. And even as the city adds bike lanes and (ostensibly) encourages people to commute by bicycle you never seem to hear anybody in an official capacity advocate for people using bikes to get kids to school. (Or for older kids to ride there themselves.) On a municipal level, we're just getting comfortable enough to send the adults unto the breach, but the unspoken message seems to be that children should be spared the exposure.
This is a shame, because once you unlock the convenience of riding with kids you're really onto something. Freeing yourself from the misery of the school drop-off is just the beginning. Then there's getting to the playdate, and the weekend activity, and the park outing. Before you know it, you're using the bike to run errands too, and suddenly that garden trough on wheels starts making a hell of a lot of sense.
“Do we really need two cars?” you may start asking yourself. “Do we even need one?”
As for the perception that transporting children by bicycle is somehow more dangerous than driving, 40,000 car-crash deaths per year suggest otherwise, and I have yet to see any numbers or hear any horror stories that lead me to believe carrying kids on bikes is any more dangerous than pushing them around in strollers. The truth is you're never more engaged than when you've got a kid on your bike. Meanwhile, Forgotten Baby Syndrome is a thing, so there you go.
And here we are. We're perfectly comfortable with the idea of cycling as a recreational activity involving thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and we're increasingly comfortable with the idea of cycling as a form of urban commuting. But until the bike truly becomes part of the family, it will always remain on the fringes.
Maybe this is why people remain resistant: once the full convenience of the bicycle is unleashed on society, then the takeover will be complete.