Posts about Parenting
A Rockville mother decided to let her 10-year-old daughter ride a public bus to get to her school, confident it would be safe. Other "concerned parents" reported this to the principal, who called the central office, who even called Child Welfare Services.
The mother, Anna, wrote a letter to the Free Range Kids blog that several readers sent in as a tip:
It had been brought to her attention, the principal said, by some "concerned parents," that my daughter had been riding the city bus to and from school.
I said, yes, we had just moved outside of the neighborhood, and felt that this was the most convenient way for our 5th grader to get there and back.
The principal asked was I not concerned for her safety? "Safety from what?" I inquired. "Kidnapping," she said reluctantly. ...
We did a lot of planning and preparation before we allowed L. to ride the bus. As a parent I feel that it is my job to advocate for her right to practice this new skill, for as long as she wants to do it and for as long as we her parents continue to feel it is safe.The principal went on to tell the mother that the central office wanted Child Welfare Services to evaluate whether it was an acceptable parenting decision to let a 5th grader ride the bus.
In contrast to the anxious overreaction from school officials, Anna writes, her daughter told her mother she didn't need to wait in the car at the bus stop for the bus to arrive, because she wanted to talk to her "people friends":
There was the Chinese lady, the lady with the baby who cried a lot (but it's not his fault, he can't help it), and the grandma who always got on at the next stop. In a few short weeks, my daughter had surrounded herself with a community of people who recognized her, who were happy to see her, and who surely would step in if someone tried to hurt her.One commenter noted that many places have kids ride the buses even younger. One said that when he or she grew up in Queens, all children rode the bus starting in 2nd grade. Another noted that Hamburg, Germany teaches kids to ride public transportation in 4th grade so they can use it alone after that.
Our suburban areas, including Montgomery County, have spent far too long building an environment that is not especially hospitable to kids walking to school. That forces almost all parents to drive their kids to school when the school bus is not an option, making school officials start to believe those are the only ways and flip out when anyone bucks the trend.
Correction: The last paragraph originally left out riding the school bus as one of the more common ways kids get to school. It now includes this as well as being driven by parents.
Reader E.G. wrote in with this question: "As a thirteen year old in a suburb of DC, how do I convince my mom to let me ride the Metro alone?"
A few years ago, New York journalist Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old son ride alone on the New York subway. She felt he was mature enough to handle it and that he was actually pretty safe.
Many accused her of being a bad parent, while many more defended her, suggesting parents today are far too protective. Skenazy ended up writing a book, Free Range Kids, which advocates that parents let children be more independent, through things like riding the subway alone or playing in parks without constant supervision.
As for the 13-year-old boy who wrote the letter, he's 4 whole years older than Skenazy's son and would be taking trips on a system that's more suburban in its design and ridership than the New York subway.
I suggested E.G. first talk with his mom to find out what her concerns are, so that he can understand, acknowledge, and respond to them. I also encouraged E.G. to propose that he take his first solo trips entirely within the suburban county where they live, and that he call his mom as soon as he gets on and off the train. With these steps, E.G.'s mom can become more confident that he knows how to use the system and how to remain safe.
At what age would you let your kids ride Metro? What advice do you have for E.G.?
We now have public systems to share bicycles. What about strollers?
Tanya Snyder suggests a "stroller-share" system at Streetsblog. She points out that as soon as children get too large to carry long distances, parents simply can't take their kids on a trip around the city on foot or using transit without a stroller.
A stroller makes the bus or train a viable mode of travel for a parent with a child. Yet strollers and transit only mix uncomfortably at best. Many bus systems require parents to fold the strollers, which means unstrapping the kid, folding the stroller one-handed while supervising the kid, boarding the bus and paying the fare while both carrying the stroller and holding onto the kid, and reversing the process at the other end.
Meanwhile, many non-parent transit riders can get quite irate at parents who take up a lot of space, want to keep the stroller unfolded, or delay the bus while folding the stroller; just look at the comments on Ken Archer's article on strollers, which have since been cited multiple times in the press as illustrations of how intolerant some transit riders can be toward parents.
Both sides have valid points. The parents need strollers, or will find themselves forced into driving everywhere. But strollers also do take up a lot of scarce room. What if parents could pick up a stroller only after they get off the bus? Snyder writes:
Once we get off the bus, it sure would be nice to have a stroller as we walk around a museum, or the zoo, or when I sit down for a meal. (Once kids are old enough to grab, they're too old to hold on your lap while you eat.) And if they sleep well in the stroller, you don't have to be prisoner to their nap schedules. You can continue with your full and busy day and they can just be lulled to sleep by the vibrations of the pavement (and potholes).If people mainly return strollers to the places they took them out, a stroller sharing system could work more like Bike and Roll, which rents bikes for longer periods of time (including tandems and child seats) for multiple hours, specifically to let people tour a place like the Mall.
It's easy enough to say, "I'm never going to be one of those moms pushing a kid around in a stroller who's old enough to walk," but you can bet I will be. If I'm not, it's because I got suckered into the myth that you need a car if you have a kid. As Luna gets bigger, Stroller-Share would be useful for the outings where she starts out strong but wears out quickly. I bet any number of visitors to the National Mall get caught flat-footed when they realize it's a full two miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial
— not to mention the distance back to wherever they parked the station wagon. Solution? Stroller-share!
We could name it Bay-B-Cycle in Denver, BittyTyke in New York, Capital Strollershare in DC, Play-Nice Ride in Minneapolis, the Cubway in Boston, Baby Bixi in Montreal.
Like bike-share, you'd have stroller stations in key places: transit hubs, tourist areas, shopping centers, children's museums. There would be a small range of options to accommodate newborns without head control as well as older kids who just need a rest, as well as double-wides. They'd all have a cargo basket underneath so parents can get a bit of a break from carrying diaper bags and such. The free half-hour might not make much sense for strollers, as they're not often used just to dart from one place to another, like a bike-share user would. Daily, monthly and annual memberships could still be available, with a focus on making one-time rentals as easy as possible, with payment by the hour.
Actually, it looks like they do rent one type of stroller: the jogging stroller, designed for a parent to take a run and bring the child along. Bike and Roll only serves the Mall and Alexandria today. Could a business succeed renting out other strollers, for 2 or so hours at a time, in places like Gallery Place, Georgetown, Clarendon, Bethesda and so on?
Have you been to your neighborhood recreation center?
DC has many great playgrounds and recreation centers. While some are overcrowded, more often they are not fully being utilized. These become more lively and vibrant if residents use them more and get to know each other.
Left: Bruce-Monroe Park. Photo by msdeena on Flickr.
Right: Chevy Chase Rec Center. Photo by DC DPR on Flickr.
For many newer residents, rec center buildings can seem mysterious or foreboding. What is this building? And who are these strange people who hang out there?
Just go and strike up a conversation. Start with the staff. Most of them don't bite, and welcome having new residents show an interest. If you have kids, talk to the other parents; even if they don't look just the same as you, they have the same desire for a safe neighborhood with lots for kids to do.
If you see crime, like drugs or weapons or vandalism, make sure to call MPD. Rec center staff don't have badges or guns. They need community members to help them report problems so the city can keep these places clean and safe for families and residents. Well cared-for recreation facilities improve the neighborhood and encourage people to stay instead of moving out as their families grow.
DC residents can find community parks and recreation facilities at DPR's interactive map.
Have you been to your local rec center? What was your experience?
Last week, transportation planners and advocates came to DC for Rail~Volution, a conference committed to "Building Livable Communities with Transit." DC was lauded for its general walkability throughout the 4-day conference, along with 34 other places around the region, many of which have grown up around Metro stations.
Panels, charettes, and mobile workshops covered all things rail, bus, bike, and pedestrian. Of particular local interest were the lessons gleaned about living car-free, working with younger generations, choosing words wisely, and utilizing new technology.
The car-free lifestyle pays off
Swearing off a car can reap tremendous savings: from $8,000 to $12,000 a year, according to New Jersey parking consultant James Zullo. A car-dependent suburban lifestyle can eat up to 25% of household income versus a slim 9% in a walkable community.
Being able to walk to shops, restaurants, school, and home is good for the economy, too. Ilana Preuss of Smart Growth America says the Barnes & Noble in downtown Bethesda makes 20% more revenue per square foot than the store in a Rockville strip mall. According to Christopher Leinberger of the Brookings Institution, the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint (by as much as 80%) is to move to a walkable community.
Who wants to be walkable?
"Millennials," that's who. Young adults have been "scarred by recession," said Manuel Pastor, Director of USC's Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. He said they no longer see home buying as a good investment, but still want to live close to where they work and play.
Pastor had a warning for government officials and planners: the only way members of Generation Y will stay in walkable communities after they have children is if they also have access to good schools.
To tell the story of what makes a community great, you have to choose your words wisely, with your audience in mind. "No wonk terminology!" cautioned Preuss, whose group has recently done some catchphrase polling. Words that frequently garner negative or confused reactions include: mixed-use, density, transit, and infrastructure. Only 36% of those surveyed like the phrase "compact neighborhoods," while 80% are fond of "walkable" even though the two terms refer to an identical concept.
Additionally, to get folks to listen, speak truthfully and in terms they care about, i.e. the economy and family. People love hearing that government will "use the money it has more effectively" and that "making great places is the key to turning around the economy." Busy parents will listen if you tell them that by driving less, they'll have more time with their children.
New tricks to consider
Work on making the SmarTrip card smarter. A number of presenters talked about including bike share, car share, bus and rail fare, and even car parking on one card. The idea, says Rob Inerfeld of Eugene, Oregon, is "for seamless bike, ped and transit links."
Visualize data for instant understanding. Examples from the Portland metro area and i-SUSTAIN in Seattle are aesthetically stunning. As Inerfeld says, good use of technology "de-risks the planning process." By feeding government data into a visualization program such as Google Earth Pro, planning is more likely to happen according to facts rather than hunches or politics. Powerful, slick social media tools such as the MindMixer virtual town hall display opinion data using simple, colorful icons.
Become a "New Rail~Volutionary." The Rail~Volution Filmfest featured a video about one municipal transit system which held a mobile concert as a way to entice new riders. That's just one creative tactic of the New Rail~Volutionaries, a national network of professionals and advocates passionate about creating livable communities. We need to get on board here in the DC region.
It all starts with you
Finally, readers of Greater Greater Washington got props from assistant editor Matthew Johnson during a panel on the power of blogs to influence policy: "Our comment threads are often more informative than the posts in which they appear." By joining in on, and often driving (pun intended) the regional conversation, you are an integral part of making the Washington, DC region even greater.
You can bring about anything onto a MetroBus
Metrobus should either ban all items that can't rest on your lap, or to allow the smallest of strollers to board: unfolded umbrella strollers.
DC's Circulator adopted a stroller policy last year that allows unfolded strollers that are larger than umbrella strollers. And they haven't received a single complaint, according to DDOT's Aaron Overman.
In other words, they are no larger than the luggage and shopping carts that riders commonly bring on board.
As it is, almost every time a parent boards a Metrobus with a folded stroller and a baby they sit in the front lateral seating area where there is already plenty of room for an 36x18" unfolded umbrella stroller.
Of course, the Metrobus driver should be allowed to use discretion and require a parent to fold a stroller if the bus is simply too full for an unfolded umbrella stroller. The Circulator drivers have this discretion under their new stroller policy.
But the Metrobus drivers rarely use discretion, as they are not supposed to do so. Instead, the Metrobus drivers are required to enforce the fold-your-stroller rule on half-full and near-empty buses.
It's very common for bus and streetcar systems outside of the US to allow unfolded strollers, particularly within a certain size. Canadians allow unfolded strollers of any size on buses in Toronto and Winnipeg, up to 120x60cm (47x23in) in Vancouver and up to 105x56cm (41x22in) in Halifax.
What is the difference between American bus systems and those in most other countries that makes unfolded umbrella strollers impossible on American buses? Perhaps the difference is not between the bus systems as it is between the expectations of their riders.
Most other countries did not experience the flight of families to car-dependent suburbs that has defined America's landscape for the past half-century.
The result has been a deep decline in the percentage of urban residents that are children in the US, and with this a change in the expectations of urban residents. Small children, however wonderful they may be, are an inconvenience that urban residents have gotten used to not dealing with.
The inconvenience of stepping around the luggage of travelers on a bus, or the shopping cart of an urban shopper, is accepted as part of living in a city. I once brought a ladder I had purchased at a hardware store onto the bus and no one blinked an eye.
The inconvenience of stepping around an unfolded umbrella stroller, even though it is no greater than the other inconveniences, is more frustrating because it calls for a change in expectations.
If I was to purchase a large child's car seat and bring it onto the bus, it would have to sit in the aisle. If instead of being a large child's car seat it was an unfolded umbrella stroller, what would be the difference? The difference is simply that the former is expected and the latter is not.
Are there unthinking, entitled parents? Yes, just as often as there are unthinking, entitled young singles who won't vacate a special needs seat for elderly riders. So let's not compare my best to your worst when discussing this topic.
Parents who decide to stay in the city after they have children, and who then decide to rely on transit, are in a small percentage of parents who have agreed to shoulder far more frustration and inconvenience than other parents because they believe in the ultimate benefits of city life.
I can assure you that the struggles they bear to get through the day on transit with toddlers is far greater than the inconvenience they place on others.
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