A week ago there was a lot of snow and ice around where we live. This made transporting myself and my two children tricky, but we managed to continue the school run by cargo bike for the whole week.
One morning I stopped to say hello to a neighbour on our way to school. She stopped scraping the snow from her car to comment “Surely that’s dangerous?” By ‘that’ she meant the cargo bike. She has never made such a comment before so I am assuming she felt that cycling in the snow was dangerous rather than cycling on a cargo bike per se.
I like my neighbour, but her comment really annoyed me.
It is not the first time that someone has questioned the safety of my chosen method of transporting my children. My own mother has an assumption that cycling is horribly dangerous despite the fact that myself and my brother have been avid cyclists for years. Total strangers sometimes feel the need to shout their opinions about our safety at me (with or without colourful language).
Here’s the thing.
How many mothers (or fathers for that matter) would knowingly place their children in danger, assuming that there was an alternative?
Not many. Possibly none.
We just do not do it. In my experience, when you have a child, everything changes. You may well swear throughout pregnancy that your world is not going to change just because you are having a baby, but it does. You see the world differently. You react to the world differently.
And you see risk differently and you react to risk differently.
There is a very simple experiment which proves this point. Give two women – one a mother of a young child and one childless – a cup of hot coffee and ask them to place their hot coffee on a table. I guarantee you that the mother will place her cup as far as possible from the edge of the table. The childless woman is more likely to their cup close to the edge of the table…only to find that the mother swiftly moves it further back.
When you have children, especially when they are young, you continually assess and manage the risks around them, because they are not old enough to do so. For any parent, this is the most fundamental aspect of your job in being a parent – keep your child safe. Continually working to keep your child safe is not even something parents choose to do. It is an instinct. It is an instinct so powerful that you cannot override it.
I love cycling. I love that the cargo bike allows me to cycle at the same time as looking after my children. I love the fresh air and the exercise and the sociability of transport by cargo bike. On the days when I cannot cycle my children somewhere (school holidays when we sometimes go further afield and use the car) I desperately miss it.
But I love my children more than I love cycling. I love my children more than anything. I do not expose my children to unnecessary risks. I cannot override my instinct to keep them safe.
That is not to say that my children never face risks. Of course they do. We all face risks every day. It is simply not possible to never face risks. We face risks and we survive because we have learned to assess and manage risk. It is not healthy for children to never be exposed to risks because how else can they learn to manage risk? How else will they learn to survive independently?
We expose our children to risk when we allow them to jump into a swimming pool – but we manage that risk by equipping them with armbands and taking them to swimming lessons and ensuring there is a lifeguard on duty.
We expose our children to risk when we allow them to climb a climbing frame at the playpark – but we manage that risk by supervising them and helping if they need it.
We expose our children to risk when we buy them a scooter for their birthday – but we manage that risk by teaching them how to ride it and by taking them to safe places to scoot.
And we expose our children to risk every time we take them anywhere near a road.
It does not matter whether they are near that road on foot, on a scooter, on a bike, in a car or on a bus. Roads are about the biggest risk faced by children in our society. And we expose our children to them every single day.
But we manage that risk too. We bring up our children to hold our hand when they are near roads. We talk to them about staying on the pavement and only crossing where it is safe to do so. We give them cycle helmets and only allow them to cycle off road or on quiet roads. We sign them up for bikeability courses. We buy the best car seat we can afford and we make sure it is fitted correctly.
We do everything in our power to ensure that our children are as safe as they can be in one of the riskiest environments they will ever face.
I had a choice that snowy morning whether or not to travel to school with my children on the cargo bike. I did not blindly head out with the bike on some misguided point of principle. I could do any of the following:
- Use the car instead. But our street is a quiet residential street, on a slope, which is not gritted. I could already see cars sliding up it and one stuck at the bottom of the hill. I am not convinced I would have even got off my drive. There were also likely to be far more cars out on the roads, causing delays, which cause frustration, which causes accidents.
- Get the bus instead. But I would still have to walk down the icy streets to and from the bus stop. None of the pavements around my house or the childrens’ school were gritted last week and people on foot were having to resort to walking in the road (with the frustrated drivers) just to stay upright.
- Walk instead. See above. This is not really an option unless the pavements have been cleared which they clearly were not going to be. Walking the shortest route is around two miles which is a long way there and back twice in a day for my three year old. It would also be two miles along one of the most polluted roads in Scotland.
- Use the cargo bike. The route I cycle is usually mostly cycle paths. Sadly, these are no more gritted than the pavements. However, the main road is gritted and there is a bus lane most of the way to the school. The bus lanes are free from cars at this time of day and and therefore relatively safe. I could avoid the very dangerous roundabout on the way by walking the bike across two pedestrian crossings and a short stretch of pavement. This is not a pleasant route, but, it is the safest option in icy conditions.
So yes, I exposed my children to risk in transporting them to school by cargo bike that day. I looked at the options and assessed the risk in each one. Then I chose the option with the least risks. I kept my children safe for another day, Because that is my job.