A thread on cars and fear.

Earlier this week, I was walking on a quiet back-street and enjoying the sunshine. On the pavement across from me was a dad with his three children doing the exact same thing.
The youngest of his children was out of his stroller, toddling alongside it and holding on to its side. The middle child was riding one of those plastic ride-on cars you push along with your feet and LOVING it. The eldest was asking questions and chatting with his dad.
The middle child, whilst having a great time, wasn't quite keeping up with the pack. So dad stopped and called back to him telling him to speed up.

But when he turned around, his youngest child had let go of the stroller and run off straight towards an intersection.
Dad yelled "HE'S UP THERE ON HIS OWN!" and started sprinting with the stroller after his youngest child. The eldest, looking terrified, ran alongside him.

The middle child, now left well behind the pack on his ride-on car, started screaming and crying.
Luckily, the dad reached his youngest son just before he got onto the road.

He picked him up and shoved him back into the stroller, buckling him in and admonishing his eldest son for not keeping a closer eye on him. His oldest son couldn't have been more than 10.
This isn't a criticism of his parenting by any means. Instead, it's an observation that this man, taking a walk with his kids near his home, genuinely feared that his child might be killed or seriously injured because he ran a little ways ahead of him.
It's also an observation of how commonplace this experience is. I don't think there's a parent out there who hasn't had a similar scare with their children. I still remember having similar experiences as a child.
But mostly, this is an observation of how absolutely fucked it is that we have normalised this kind of danger on our streets. That we have allowed cars such unprecedented control of our neighbourhoods that fearing for the lives of children is standard, without question.
The lesson those three boys learnt that afternoon was that play, spontaneity and exploration is bad and wrong.

Every single one of them was taught that their neighbourhood is scary and dangerous.

A day that should have been remembered for joy will be remembered for fear.
This isn't the experience that creates the walkers and cyclists of tomorrow.

This is the experience that leads people to see the roads as a threat, something they need to be shielded from, in bigger and bulkier cars that just make the roads more dangerous again.
It's not that we don't know how to make our streets safer for children. That part is easy.

Just ban the sale of cars that are so big you can't see children run out in front of them.

Design for and enforce speed limits slow enough that drivers can stop before hitting a kid.
Prioritise the visibility of pavements, so there isn't a line of parked cars obstructing a drivers line of sight of where a child might be about to cross a road.
We have the solutions. What we're missing is the will.

Because right now, the reality on our streets is that we're prioritising cars over the safety of children.
The sad and bitter truth is this is a choice.

We've chosen to prioritise making getting where we're going faster and more convenient.

The consequence of that choice is that we fear for the lives of our children whenever they're near a road.
And now, it's self fulfilling.

How many folks do you know who've bought a car when they have kids because they don't feel safe enough to walk and cycle with them in tow?

This leads to more cars on the roads, and more people who don't feel safe walking and cycling.
It's also the kind of thing that can't be measured in data.

When planners and policymakers look at the number of collisions that have occurred in a neighbourhood, they don't see these stories. They don't see the close calls. They don't see the fear felt by parents every day.
The driver of the car headed towards the intersection at the same time as that man's son most likely didn't even notice the drama unfolding right in front of them. They are oblivious to the fear they've caused a family.
In the end it all comes down to this: the fear that family experienced shouldn't be commonplace. It shouldn't be the cost of going for a walk with your kids in your neighbourhood.

Things need to change.

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