Proposed HB 2228, ban for kids on parent's bikes and trailers, thinks wrong
Update: Jules Bailey tells Bike Portland he and Greenlick have agreed to alter the proposed bill to instead call for a study of family biking. I've written asking Greenlick apologize for jumping into this conversation by demonizing parents who choose to put their children on bicycles (and comparing this to the seatbelt debate in the 1950s); I hope he does so.
Representative Mitch Greenlick has sponsored proposed House Bill 2228, which would make it illegal to carry children aged six and under on bicycles, including trailers and trail-a-bikes, punishable by a maximum fine of $90. He tells Bike Portland he did it to keep children safe; while he has no statistics on children's death, he does have a study on adult males, who often are injured when they crash on their bike. He said, "if it's true that it's unsafe [for a four-year-old to ride on his parent's bike], we have an obligation to protect people. If I thought a law would save one child's life, I would step in and do it. Wouldn't you?" His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org; his district office phone number is (503) 297-2416. (He represents NW Portland; Jules Koppel, (503) 986-1442, represents my SE neighborhood. Find your representative here. Katie wrote this letter, inviting Rep. Greenlick to Kidical Mass on Saturday. Here's another letter.)
The four of us who founded urbanMamas didn't all start out six or seven years ago as the things we are today: competitive and eager runners, whole food-conscious, green-minded, three-kid-having, family bike activists. It's happened, as much because of the place we lived and the people we live around -- we're co-inspirators, I've said -- than because of any special long-held personal conviction. The conviction, it's grown on us, and some of it grew like a weed, accidental, perhaps meant to be after all. Native to Portland, Oregon, we're sure.
Biking has become for all of us a personal freedom, an identity, a way of glorious life. It's frugal and emission-free and it changes the dynamic of risk for transportation; instead of putting everyone else on the road in danger, we're putting only ourselves and our children. Given the statistics -- the by-far-and-away-crazy leading cause of death for children is automotive accidents, over a thousand kids die each year and many more are badly injured -- our risk is miniscule. I've looked for statistics on death as bicycle passenger, and can't find them. Julian describes the data as "entirely without denominator." Surely, one day a child or even a dozen will die as passengers on bicycles, probably in a collision with an automobile. It is guaranteed that another thousand children will die next year, and the year after that, as passengers in cars.
We could surely prevent many deaths through punitive laws. We could ban balloons, peanuts, playground structures, swimming pools. We could outlaw bath tubs and pillows. We could ban indoor heat (a large number of children die each year from residential fires, often caused by faulty heating systems). But this isn't what I believe Oregon to be: committed to personal freedoms. Fiercely independent. Avoidant of bias against families with fewer resources. Lovers of the outdoors. Fearless of rain, wind, even the occasional snowflake in our collective face.
Greenlick says he wants to start a conversation. This is the wrong conversation to start. Limits are not needed on bicycling, a choice of transportation which harms no one and is the only option for more and more economically struggling Oregonians each year. I chose the bicycle when I could no longer afford my car; if I can't find bus fare, I can still ride. Parents on bikes are the least militant but most zealous of all of them; highly unlikely to run a red light or go too fast down a hill; hoping with every muscle cell they'll be examples of active, environmentally-sustainable lifestyles for their children. But as irrational as his reasoning on this bill is, I don't believe he's going to be listening.
Someone asked what she should do if she can't put her child on her bike, "Leave him at home? Never leave the house? Purchase a car? If this bill isn't anti-family, then it's anti-woman." Many single mothers (I'm functionally one with my husband in Kuwait) have found new life through biking with their children. Rep. Greenlick, Oregon legislature: don't take this freedom away from them; don't take our choices, our loves away from us.