Tag Archives: car culture

Under your own steam

The one thing missing from baseball practice last week was the bikes. There should have been a pile of bikes on the ground, or propped up against the fence. This team is made up of nine-to-12-year-old boys who all live nearby. Shouldn’t some of them have been able to get themselves to practice, on a warm evening in spring break? Instead, cars came and went down the short lane to the baseball diamond, each one disgorging a single boy before turning around and heading back for the short drive home, probably, only to do it all in reverse two hours later.

Do I blame America, or modern parenting, for this? I’m not sure.

A few weeks ago I took a wild notion and walked down to meet some friends for an evening out. I had a lift home sorted out already. I didn’t want to drive and leave the car overnight as it would be needed early the next morning. I certainly didn’t want to drive both ways, because then I’d have to stop after one drink. (A taxi, the obvious solution to an Irish reader, is not really an option. I mean, they exist, but it would be weird. Nobody does it. Not right here in town. If we were in the city, sure.) It was a nice evening so I decided to wear boots I could walk in and take Shanks’s pony. It’s about a 20 minute walk and there are sidewalks all the way, which is not a given in this part of the world. The area is residential, mostly, and then you’re at the supermarket and the bar we were going to. It’s not a dangerous urban area or a remote rural one.

There was one other person walking a little way behind me. It was a man, not anyone I knew. I felt vaguely nervous, and ridiculous for feeling that way. It was a little dark, but it was not even eight o’clock yet – not late by any stretch of the imagination. I thought of all the times I’ve walked home from the last Dart in Dublin, or even from the Nitelink at 3am. Heck, in Dublin all winter it’s dark by the time you’re walking home from work, never mind a night out. I was hardly ever the only person walking from point A to point B.

Just like breastfeeding in public, I thought: if nobody does it, then nobody will ever do it. There’s safety in numbers, sometimes literally.

At about the two-thirds-way-there point in my walk, another friend drew up beside me in her car and offered me a lift. And laughed at me for walking. How Irish of me.

America has a car culture. Even in this little town that was designed to be walkable, that prides itself on its pathways between the houses, and is very safe and friendly, people drive because a car is part of your personal freedom. People walk for their health, or they walk the dog. They bike as a “leisure pursuit” or a “family activity” but hardly anyone rides a bike to get somewhere they need to be, especially not kids alone, even though the bicycle is the perfect method of transport for short people with bountiful energy, a desire for independence, and no disposable income.

In fact, it’s not merely an idle thought to wonder if I might be arrested for sending my eight year old to his baseball practice on a bike, alone. Someone might call CPS and accuse me of neglect. Maybe that’s why nobody else does it. We all teach our kids to ride their bikes, delighted to watch them hit that milestone we remember so well for ourselves – but once they’re old enough to be sick of riding round in circles outside their own house, where can they go? Do they have to wait till Dad’s ready to suit up and take them to a trail, or have Mom drive them to a bike park?

I want Dash, my nine-year-old this summer, to ride his bike the half mile to his friend’s house and hang out with him… but then, his friend will be in camp all summer because his parents are divorced and his mom works full time… maybe I’m just hankering after a world that’s long gone…

Bikes parked with helmets

Bikes at the playground