Rising to the Challenge of Bringing Kids on Transit

Following up on yesterday’s post about family-friendly
transit, which generated a raft of interesting comments on Streetsblog
New York
(and even more on our SF,
DC
and LA
sites), we’ve got a dispatch from the front lines. Carla Saulter,
who writes the always excellent Bus
Chick
blog out in Seattle, weighs in on how going from one kid to
two has made her car-free existence significantly more challenging,
although she remains characteristically undaunted:

busingwithtwo.jpgCarla Saulter has her hands full when
she rides the bus these days. (Photo: Bus Chick)

The second
time I rode the bus with both babies…I was parenting
solo, and, thanks to a morning errand in the neighborhood, arrived at
the 48 stop mere seconds before the bus did. I quickly removed Chicklet
from her stroller, but when I tried to fold it down, it wouldn’t budge;
a stack of papers I had tossed into the storage basket earlier that
morning was in the way.

While I squatted on the sidewalk, trying to un-jam the
stroller — with one hand on the baby (to prevent him from tipping out
of
the sling-like carrier he’s riding in until he gets big enough for the real
deal
)
and one hand on Chicklet (to prevent her from running into the busy
street we were waiting near) — the bus pulled up, and folks started
boarding. When they finished, I was still struggling.

The driver peered out the door and asked politely, "Are y’all
coming?" but I was so embarrassed and discombobulated, I shook my head.

"I’ll just catch the next one," I said, and then watched as he
closed the doors and drove away.

The three of us did, in fact, wait the 15+ minutes for the next
bus… By the time we finally made it to the
park, I was stressed and tired, and we were late to meet our friends.

Carla’s experience is certainly familiar to me. I’ve been the woman
squatting on the sidewalk trying to fold the stroller and finally
telling the bus to move on. There’s no doubt that designing transit
vehicles to accommodate strollers would make things a lot easier for
parents, as several commenters noted yesterday.

Still, I think attitude has a lot to do with it as well.

In my case, my own childhood experience of using
transit rather than cars definitely played a factor. The first couple
of years of my son’s life in Brooklyn, we actually did own a car, but we
only drove it when we were leaving town (and we happily gave it up
years ago). When I was growing up in New York, it was just common wisdom
that driving within the city was frustrating, slow, expensive and
scary. I’m not sure when that perception changed, but it seems that it
has. Many of the families I know today, even in Manhattan and Brooklyn
neighborhoods where traveling by transit or foot is genuinely easy, now
choose to drive.

My son’s whole life — he is now nearly eight — we have done
almost all our trips by transit, foot and bike. Sometimes we catch a
ride with a friend, but he often prefers to walk. Every now and then we
use a car service or cab. Once or twice a year we rent a Zipcar. On
plenty of occasions, we have experienced a smoother, more enjoyable trip
to our destination than friends who have traveled the same route by
car.

The converse is occasionally true as well. But all in all, I have
to agree with Carla when she says, "There are certainly challenges, but
every choice comes with challenges, and I’ll
take mine over all of the drawbacks of driving."

  • patrick

    I think the first and most important thing a transit agency can do to help parents (and the disabled and elderly) is to use low-floor vehicles. Then they would have to fold up strolers. Next would be to give them priority after disabled & elderly to use the seats close to the doors that have more space.

  • EL

    The very fact that the driver peered out the door and asked politely, “Are y’all coming?” speaks volumes as to how much more feasible it is to bring kids on transit in Seattle versus Muni.

  • My children are big and grown now, but if I were to do my childrearing years in the city over, I would go the Danish/Dutch route and get a Bakfiet.

    http://www.mydutchbike.com/bicycles/bakfiets-trike/

    Since we live up a sizable hill, I would probably add a small 650 Watt motor electric assist (not to mention disc brakes.) Kids love riding in them, you can get to places in half the time it takes Muni, plus the parent gets exercise along the way. They are expensive but well-built, and I would expect they would have solid resale value on Craigslist when your kid outgrows it.

    But no question that it’s great to get your kid comfortable with and savvy about public transportation. When they get to be teens and can go by themselves to school or shopping or over to friend’s for 75 cents, that investment really pays off.

  • Schtu

    @ Patrick
    Absolutely! Low floor vehicles speed boarding for everyone and allow boarding with kids to be much less daunting.

    When I have out of town guests with stroller age kids they all remark at how much easier it is for them to get around on the LRV’s (with boarding islands or underground) vs. loading and unloading their kids from car seats.

  • Robo

    Our fleet is antique. Low-floor vehicles are in use all over the world and drastically reduce boarding times.

  • ZA

    Buses should accommodate how people live…

    I remember intra-urban buses in the UK having grocery bag storage platforms near the driver. Other models had a U design with a low flat easy-seating middle space with stacked seating at higher points at either end (over the wheels) for the more ambulatory.

    London was still hell for ‘prams,’ though.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

STREETSBLOG USA

Getting Romantic About Transit

|
Love at the bus stop. (Photo: lucam via Flickr) Today on the Streetsblog Network, we came across a sweet post from one of our favorite network members — Seattle’s Carla Saulter, better known as Bus Chick. She’s celebrating a milestone — seven years of living car-free. And she takes the occasion to share some memories: […]