Complete Streets for Kids by Fionnuala Quinn

 

 

Note: This blog post was originally shared on The Bureau of Good Roads.

Leaving it all to the Children

We devote little time to engaging children in the wonders of the built world. We rarely tell them the design stories nor share our vision about how we want to complete our streets. We barely solicit their input on future plans. As adults, we only have temporary custody of the streets, bridges, plazas, waterfronts, and transit systems. Why aren't we preparing children better for when we hand the whole lot over to them? This is the core question that The Bureau of Good Roads works to remedy.

Hello Built World!

My fourth grade teacher in particular opened my eyes to the built world. Mrs. O’Sullivan took all forty-something of us by foot around Dublin to see the Georgian buildings and squares and had us build model replicas.  However, I was also a child who biked four miles each way to school from age eleven, this after years of taking the public bus every day across town by myself. While that teacher may have taught me to look at design, her teaching was layered on an already developed level of knowledge about how streets were put together and finding my own way around within that space.

The Decline in Going Outside

Many children now spend long stretches of the day looking at flat screens and much of their free time is indoors. As a cohort, children have steadily lost their right to roam by themselves. They are frequently chauffeured, even for short local trips. They wait for the school bus in idling vehicles, dashing from one climate-controlled environment to another. Outdoor independence and the natural learning that accompanies it, has been displaced.

Eight-year Olds

This 2007 map shows the contraction of freedom over four generations in a British family. At age eight, great-grandad could travel up to six miles without an adult while his great-grandson, at the same age, is allowed a 300-yard radius of freedom. Something similar in terms of children's lives has been happening all over the U.S.

Eight-year Olds This 2007 map shows the contraction of freedom over four generations in a British family. At age eight, great-grandad could travel up to six miles without an adult while his great-grandson, at the same age, is allowed a 300-yard radius of freedom. Something similar in terms of children's lives has been happening all over the U.S. Be Home Before Dinner Outdoor independent play-freedom has largely become a relic of the past. Lots of children never get to explore streets by foot or ride their bikes on trails with pals. They’re not getting lost and then figuring their way back home again. Consequences include reduced exercising of such skills as wayfinding and observation and intuitive spatial awareness. This is not good news for fields such as engineering, transportation and design. Nor is it good news for general understanding of healthy community design.

Eight-year Olds

This 2007 map shows the contraction of freedom over four generations in a British family. At age eight, great-grandad could travel up to six miles without an adult while his great-grandson, at the same age, is allowed a 300-yard radius of freedom. Something similar in terms of children's lives has been happening all over the U.S.

Be Home Before Dinner

Outdoor independent play-freedom has largely become a relic of the past. Lots of children never get to explore streets by foot or ride their bikes on trails with pals. They’re not getting lost and then figuring their way back home again. Consequences include reduced exercising of such skills as wayfinding and observation and intuitive spatial awareness. This is not good news for fields such as engineering, transportation and design. Nor is it good news for general understanding of healthy community design.

 

Be Home Before Dinner

Outdoor independent play-freedom has largely become a relic of the past. Lots of children never get to explore streets by foot or ride their bikes on trails with pals. They’re not getting lost and then figuring their way back home again. Consequences include reduced exercising of such skills as wayfinding and observation and intuitive spatial awareness. This is not good news for fields such as engineering, transportation and design. Nor is it good news for general understanding of healthy community design.

Imagination Nation

We encourage children’s imaginative engagement with magical fantasy worlds and historical places. We teach about the natural environment, undersea worlds, and outer space. Yet it’s rare to find children taking hard-hat tours of construction sites or touring the local transit station or taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the bike share warehouse. By skipping right past our built world and its operation, we act as if it holds little of interest and there aren’t lessons to be learned. 

The Lives of Others

If we wanted to, we could readily create interesting lessons and activities to learn about the complexities of daily life. Children could be riding the transit networks and visiting department of transportation officials and conducting audits to see how wheelchair users cross the street. These activities and more are what we do at The Bureau and we host them frame as ‘science’, ‘technology’, ‘engineering’ and ‘math’ (or STEM) learning. We should be starting early on these lessons so that children can do informal observational learning as they grow.

Fighting Traffic

Beyond STEM encouragement, there are more basic societal matters at play. Our civic discussions around changes to our built world often don’t go so well. Introduce sensible ideas about bike lanes or traffic calming in the neighborhood and next thing World War III has broken out. Suggest improving safety through proven methods like roundabouts and road diets and the conversation turns into urban legends and ridiculing articles. Folks point fingers at other roads users behavior but rarely consider the role design or operation play in the interaction. For generations we have mostly left explanations about such matters in the hands of the engineers without developing accessible and straightforward lessons for more common usage.

The Road to Happiness

We have a long history of influencing change through children: think smoking, recycling, and seatbelts. The Road to Happiness was a 1924 silent movie funded by the Ford Motor Company. It tells the fictionalized story of a boy who enters a national essay contest about the need to improve the unpaved roads of the time. He wins and is awarded a college scholarship in engineering. He eventually returns to his childhood community as the county engineer and the film ends as he arranges for the paving of the road to his old schoolhouse. The actual Firestone Good Roads essay contest drew over a quarter of a million entries annually from school children. The winner made the national newspapers and went to Washington to meet the president. This was one of the first major U.S. campaigns to engage children and employ them to influence U.S. policy.

High-fives for Design

Modern-day children demand activities with a little more excitement than an essay contest. However, there are endless potentially fun means to create learning and to add a little whimsy to engineering ideas. After all, you’re not teaching them engineering, we mostly just need them to be aware and looking at their everyday world for now. Here kids wait to have their street design drawings signed and sealed at the resident engineers booth.  After ‘review’, the ‘engineer' sent most of them back to make revisions. As well as expressing their design ideas, this exercise was teaching a lesson about the role of other's input and iteration in creating a plan.  Parents were high-fiving kids when they received that engineering seal on their drawing.

Imagining our Built World

We want to raise children who have some understanding of the workings of what we've built, who are thinking about how it's put together and know inside that they too have a role to play. Let's encourage kids in these realizations by deploying imagination, creativity and a little unexpected playing around with the infrastructure. There are many civic lessons waiting outside our front entrances. Using the streets, parking lots and plazas as a backdrop for projects can help children recognize the roles they could play in it's future. When the future is exciting but has so many unknowns, let’s pull the kids into the discussion.

 

Learn more: www.goodroadsmovement.com.

Learn more about Good Roads Movement Founder and Pedal Love Council Member Fionnuala Quinn here!

Becoming a Bicyclist Again by Lani Tarozzi

Lani with her beloved Biria.

Lani with her beloved Biria.

I ran in the backdoor and through the kitchen of my childhood home all scraped up yelling, “Mooommm!  I just fell off my bike into the Schmidt’s shrubs and now I can’t get my bike out of the shrubs!!”  I was 5 and I just learned how to ride my Schwinn.   My mother held up one urgent & patient index finger to hold me at bay while she gracefully exited the vacuum cleaner salesman out the front door.  It was the early 70’s on Stiles Court in Pompton Lakes, a northern suburb of New Jersey, an hour outside of NYC.  You rode your bike everywhere and, yes, vacuum salesmen came knocking on your front door.

Me as my sister Rosalyn in the early '70s with my Schwinn in the background.

Me as my sister Rosalyn in the early '70s with my Schwinn in the background.

I spent my childhood biking all over town with my sister and my neighborhood friends.  My grandparents bought us our first bikes and, wanting us to have good, safe bikes, the Schwinn bike shop is were we always went.  I rode a Schwinn straight through high school, no helmet and no lock… ever.

Off to college at NYU and my biking pretty much ended.  I walked, rode subways, and took buses and cabs.  Biking just wasn’t the culture, not for me anyway.  I once biked on a date in my mid-20’s from the West Village to Central Park.  It was so much fun, but that was it for biking until my 40’s.

By that time I had 2 boys and my wheels were pushing a double stroller around town.  When the boys were both in school full-time, I took a job back in fashion with my friend, Todd Snyder, who had his own fashion line.  His office on 20th Street was just over a mile from where I dropped my kids at school, but there wasn’t any logical public transportation to get me there and it was too far to walk and arrive on time.  Noticing other parents on bikes dropping off their kids, I got myself over to HUB Bikes in the neighborhood and bought my black Biria City Bike from George, I rented a hook in the Bike Room in my apartment building, and I’ve been riding that Biria ever since.  Although my boys both have bikes and we ride together occasionally, their wheels of choice are on skateboards.  It’s all good and we all get around town on what suits us best.

With every new adventure, new challenges crop up, which then can (and did!) lead to new adventures, which brought me to starting my fashion bike accessories company, Tandem NY.  When I went to work for Todd, his office was in a super-cool loft in The Flatiron District in NYC and he let us park our bikes in the office.  I rode up on the freight elevator and parked my bike at my desk, as did the other office bikers. 

My challenge, though, wasn’t actually biking to work in the city traffic, nor was it the wedge heels that were my issues; it was my flowing skirts and dresses that were distracting (and embarrassingly revealing!), while I biked.  I would joke about it in the office and say I needed to invent something to tame my skirt while biking.  An encouraging bunch they were in the office and they nudged me along to take that leap of faith to design something to fix my problem. 

I teamed up with my sister, Rosalyn, and we combined our design & production talents from our fashion industry backgrounds, having collectively worked in fashion at Coach, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, and we launched Tandem in 2014 with "The Skirtweight," an accessory that simply clips-on to the hemline of your skirt to keep it from flowing up while you’re riding on!

The Skirtweight has brought both us national and international recognition in both the biking & fashion worlds:

Evan, Mick & Me on West 4th Street in the West Village, NYC

Evan, Mick & Me on West 4th Street in the West Village, NYC

The momentum of the Skirtweight gave rise to the next fashion biking accessory launch… Skirtlegs Leg Warmers. The leg warmers were designed for another biking necessity for me as I still wanted to bike in a skirt in the winter.  We designed the cashmere-feel leg warmers to keep stylishly warm while biking in a skirt in cold weather or while walking or en-route to yoga or the gym.  The unique back zipper design allows for easily removing the leg warmers without removing your shoes or sneakers, and the reflective trim shows you off at night.

With even more momentum gained, I had the idea to incorporate into our biking world a series of products highlighting women in Fashion & the Arts called “In Tandem With…”  We’re proud to be intermixing with the great talents of Sacha Penn of Penn & Daughter, Susan Mocarski of Cleverhood, Janna Hortsmann of Radkappe, Danielle Baskin of Inkwell Helmets, Mara McCann of Henry Liz Helmet Bags, and Chanel Cohn & Mindy Brooks of Aviva Winter.

With my most recent honor of being asked to join Pedal Love’s Style & Culture Council to promote women in biking as a lifestyle, I’m beyond grateful for all the support we’ve gotten from the biking industry and I hope to encourage women in towns and cities to look beyond their comfort zones and take a chance on their bikes.  I love what I do with Tandem and we’re working on cultivating the business with more products to make biking easy and attainable for women.  From my Schwinn of the ‘70’s to my Biria of the ‘10’s, it’s been quite a ride and I’m enjoying my momentum gained “in Tandem” with the talents and great minds in the industry.

Learn more at TandemNY.com.