Friday, January 14, 2011

On Oregon House Bill 2228

I never thought riding one of these would make me an 'outlaw biker.'
Note: This is an expanded version of a comment I left on the Xtracycle Every Day Adventurers blog concerning proposed Oregon legislation.

I know that this is ostensibly a blog about biking in and around Denver, but any implied geographic boundaries are loosened when issues of import arise. As such, a state representative in Oregon has proposed an ill-informed bill that could have a chilling effect on carrying passengers under the age of six on a bicycle. The bill would restrict any child under six from being a passenger on a bicycle or in a bicycle trailer. If passed, this policy could spread to other states, so it should be of concern to all of us who value family bicycling and car-reduced transportation.

I have a few thoughts on the value of having children under the age of six as passengers on bicycles based on my own experience. To begin, I'll present some background. I live in car-centric suburban Denver with my wife and five-year old daughter. In part because I found the design to be so appealing, and in part to reduce our car use, I bought a Big Dummy cargo bike in 2008, soon after they first became available. The effect was immediately transformational. Riding together as a family for recreation, errands and commuting to work and school has made us healthier and happier.

My daughter loves to ride the Big Dummy, although she is able to ride her own bike. She started out in a Burly trailer, and was overjoyed in moving to riding on the rear seat of the Big Dummy, or "our bike" as she calls it. Wherever we go, she happily informs curious people about how we use the bike and what it can carry. She enjoys arriving at school on the Big Dummy, which is usually mobbed by kids telling us how cool they think the bike is and asking if their parents can get one too. In no small part because of her experience riding from an early age, I'm confident my daughter will be physically active and a lifetime bike rider, both valuable to counter health risks prevalent in our culture. She is also more engaged with our community and the world around her; highly useful building blocks for creating good citizens.

We are now a two cargo bike family. This past year, I built an Xtracycle for my wife. Because we ride our bikes frequently, we now know more about our neighbors and neighborhood and are more likely to visit local restaurants and businesses than in the past. In a car, we tend to stick to standard routes around town, spending money at a relatively few number of places. On bikes we are more free to explore, spending money not needed for gasoline throughout our community.

To be clear, I am not an anti-car advocate, but instead in favor of using the correct vehicle for the job. Our family owns two cars, but we use them much less frequently around town than before. Like others in this country who are pioneering life with reduced car dependence, a law to restrict carrying young children by bike would be detrimental to our health, economics and quality of life.

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