“some vestigial teenager in me clings to the ‘option’ of having a car somewhere, just in case. I’m going to have to read about how you handled the early months of H’s life – my biggest concern is the time between a possible future baby’s birth and the point where she can wear a bike helmet.”
First of all, gold star to Charlotte for actually considering getting rid of the car. She’s in the Boston area, so chances are she and her partner won’t even miss it.
That said, she’s right to anticipate that if kid(s) are on the horizon, getting through babyhood without the car can be tricky. But if you can do it, the rewards are many (not least of which is not being trapped in a minivan all day every day for the rest of your life).
On the practical front, the impact of parenting on biking and carfree living spans much more than the first year of babyhood that Charlotte anticipates. If you are pregnant, you may or may not feel comfortable biking while pregnant. Yes, yes, I know the Dutch do it, but Dutch roads have space for bicycles and Dutch drivers are probably a bit more deferential to bikers than those in Boston. So far, I have yet to meet a real life pregnant lady who has biked. I don’t feel comfortable doing it, for a variety of reasons, so for now, I am T, bus and foot dependent.
Then comes biking with the kid. In the states, conventional wisdom says wait a year, and that felt reasonable to us. In reality, it took us about two years to come up with a bike setup we felt good about, but we could have started much much earlier if we’d gotten our act together. During that first year, you need to make sure that anywhere you need to get with your kid is accessible by foot or public transit, preferably by foot (it’s not fun to be the one with the screaming baby on the bus, though see buschick for a mom who is serious about bus riding with a baby). Chances are, in a fairly large city, you’ll be able to do this. Choose a doctor close by (there are plenty of them). Restrict to a local search for childcare. If you’ll be working outside the home, you can still blast to work on your bike like the old days after you drop off the baby, though if you’re anything like me, a new-found sense of mortality may lead you to become a bit more cautious. I certainly relaxed my insistence on all-weather biking once H was born.
And once you finally get the baby on the bike? I’m afraid all is not as blissful as you might hope. It is nice, yes, but you might not get the kind of toddler who wants to sit on a bike for miles at a time. You’ll probably feel more cautious about winter biking. Rainy-day biking with a kid takes a lot of gear and preparation, and you may find yourself avoiding it more than you did in your pre-kid days. Once you start biking with your child, you’ll also get a lot of flak, from random people on the road, but also from real life friends and family who are anywhere from “concerned” to absolutely livid that you would place your child at risk on a bike. I’ve written some about my take on the safety (or not) of biking with a kid, but all the thinking and soul searching in the world won’t spare you the intrusive advice that you’d all be better off if you just bought the SUV and the giant carseat, and strapped your kid in 24/7.
So if it really is this hard, why do it? Why do the work of navigating pregnancy, babyhood and toddlerhood (perhaps several times) without a car? What, exactly, is the payoff? The payoff is a life in which your entire family is firmly integrated in your local neighborhood and your child isn’t made to sit still, strapped in, as you drive endless mindless miles from one thing to the next. The neighbors you meet as you are out walking or regularly frequenting the local park (because it is so close, and you can’t really drive to the nicer one a little farther away), become the friends that you call when your whole family is throwing up, but you are out of pedialyte and soda crackers. And if you are already a person who loves the freedom and independence of biking and minimal dependence on a car, isn’t that something you want to share with your kid(s)? Life changes when kids come into the picture, but you don’t have to leave what matters to you behind. Better to keep the things you love and are proud of, and include your children, even if it’s a little inconvenient at first.