Car free in the city
by Ruth-Anna MacQueen, posted 20 March 2017
Cargo-bike aficionado Ruth-Anna MacQueen tells us about the kind of family cycling she does, around the streets of Hackney in London.
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When you have three young children and use a bike instead of a car to get around, you get used to hearing a lot of myths.
You must have lots of spare time (nope)
You must be really fit (nope)
You must get very sweaty (nope, just take it slow and/or look into electric assist)
You must be rich to afford that special kit (not necessarily)
It’s dangerous (actually, a sedentary lifestyle is more dangerous, and the kids and I would be exposed to higher levels of pollution inside a car)
Family cycling is often seen as a pleasant leisure activity, but rarely as a viable method of getting around, even by fellow cyclists. The first thing people say when I tell them we have three young children and no car is usually ‘how do you do it?’. I answer them, honestly, that cycling is the only way we can manage two parents with busy jobs, and getting three children to school and nursery on time. We don’t have time not to cycle!
I live in Hackney with my husband and three children (aged between six years and four months old). I’m currently on maternity leave from my job as an obstetrician and gynaecologist. I never set out to become a cycle campaigner or activist - I’m just a ‘normal’ working mum. We both cycled to work, and so when my eldest son was born it seemed natural to buy a bike seat as soon as he could sit up. Our second child was born two years later and we bought a second hand trailer to fit them both. I also had a front seat and back seat set-up but found mounting the children on a challenge without toppling it over.
Credit: Ruth-Anna MacQueen, 2017
It did the job, but when I found out about cargobikes I set about hunting one down. I was lucky enough to find a slight shop-soiled boxbike for sale and it was love at first pedal! Eighteen months, a pregnancy and a house move later, we decided to upgrade to an electric assist model, and we now feel we have a vehicle that can do virtually anything a car can (and more!) but at a fraction of the expense and hassle.
‘But isn’t it really expensive?’ people ask, to which I reply, ‘it depends what you’re comparing it to’. Even a top-of-the-range, brand new, electric-assist cargobike that fits four children (and all the shopping), is comparable in price to a small second hand car, and that’s without the costs of petrol, parking, VED, insurance, and MOT. And, of course, it’s healthier, and better for the environment. With an all-weather cover, capacity for shopping, nappies, and snacks and suitable for babies pretty much from birth, it replaces a family car. My six year old usually rides his own bike these days, but he still likes to climb in the boxbike for bad weather, long trips, when we’re in a hurry, or simply to read a book on the go!
However, cargobikes aren’t the only option by any means and luckily these days there are plenty of options for all budgets and family sizes. I am passionate about opening people’s eyes to the possibilities of family cycling as a solution to so many of the problems we have both individually and on a societal level. Locally, I’ve teamed up with Carry Me Bikes to run a Family Cycling Project, funded by Cycling Grants for London, which is loaning out free family cycling equipment to families, organising social group rides for families and ‘tots and cargobikes’ sessions with qualified cycling instructors for parents wanting to start cycling with their children.
I also feel strongly about improving road conditions to enable more families to cycle, and for this reason I’m actively involved in campaigning for healthy, people centred streets, via my local LCC campaign group and more widely.
My children are growing up with cycling as their norm, and I’m confident they are reaping the rewards of this. I would love to see more interest and investment in family cycling and safer streets at a Council and Government level to enable other children to have the same opportunities.