Photo by Kathleen Wilker
Anna Sierra Heffernan-Wilker and Derek HeffernanAnna Sierra Heffernan-Wilker and father Derek Heffernan.
Back in the fall, I was invited to participate on a panel about biking in the shoulder season. I was happy to accept, but wanted our ten-year-old daughter, Anna Sierra, to be part of the panel too.
All too often our streets are not designed with children’s travel in mind. Sharrows on a main street, for example, guide experienced cyclists to ride in the center of the lane, but they don’t create routes that children can take on their own bikes. There is a lot of skill and confidence required to make quick decisions when sharing the road with parked cars and traffic, especially at intersections.
So whenever there is an opportunity for our kids to be included in conversations around cycling, I invite them to join in. To create cities where everyone can get where they want to go, we need to ask kids where they want to go and what would make it possible for them to get there. Separated bike lanes and pedestrian scrambles at intersections would certainly help. Crosswalks on direct routes to school would too.
We bike a lot in our family and have since the kids were tiny. At the age of four, Anna Sierra was riding to kindergarten and heading off on trail-a-bike camping adventures. Our weekends often include extended rides around the city’s many paths and quiet streets – for pleasure, errands, and transportation. A cheerful, capable rider, our daughter is full of endurance, speed, and joy.
During the panel, someone asked about winter tires. Our ten-year-old cycling expert grabbed the microphone from the adults she was sharing the stage with because she knew the answer. What you need,” she said “are treads, like I’ve got on my mountain bike. Then you’ll be able to go anywhere.”
Really, I shouldn’t have been surprised by her confidence and clarity. This girl knows cycling. Having fixed bikes in the garage with her dad since she was a toddler, she is now an intrepid wheel truer, a determined chain cleaner, and a powerful tire pumper.
Anna Sierra is also a nature-loving outside girl who rides roads, trails ,and paths in all kinds of weather.
So I was not all that surprised by our daughter. But I was delighted to learn that our six-year-old friend, Olive, who attended the event with her family, saw her ten-year-old friend on stage and felt inspired to tell her mom at bedtime, “Next time there’s an event about biking with kids, I want to help, too.”
This young generation of cyclists are ready to ride. And they know what they’re talking about.
Given the opportunity, they’ll enthusiastically take class biking trips – we had 40 kids on bikes for a grade four class trip last year. These kids will join bike clubs in huge numbers – we have 48 kids signed up for year four of our After School Bike Club. They’ll even celebrate birthdays on two wheels – because what’s better than biking with your friends and eating cupcakes?
These kids love mastering all the safe cycling rules we share with them. They just need infrastructure that is designed with their needs in mind and that takes them where they need to go, such as multi-use trails, separated bike paths, kid-friendly bike routes, sidewalks, crosswalks, and safe intersections.
Let us think about designing our main streets so that kids can bike to school, or the grocery store, or the library, or their friend’s house – on their own.
Because if we make time and space for kids to ride, they will insist on getting where they need to go, on their own power, all year round. But first we need to include them, meaningfully, in the conversation.