Look Both Ways

Tip of the day: crossing busy streets with kids

I see a blue oneCrossing a busy arterial with two young riders is sure to rattle any normally calm, cool and collected parent. Many parents simply won’t do it: “Too many busy roads to cross where I live” is one of the most common reasons I hear from parents for why they don’t get around town on bikes with kids.

How do you get everyone across safely and keep what’s left of your sanity? Like everything else in life, it takes lots of practice. And you have to cross many intersections with kids before it becomes second nature.

We cross several of these intersections on a daily basis and have come up with a system that works for all of us and allows for safe crossing.

  • I make sure all pedalers are alert, paying attention and are ready to cross as soon as traffic clears (foot on pedal ready to take off and no jokes or story telling while we’re waiting to cross, this is serious business.)
  • We all call out the colors of the cars as they pass. “I see a red one to the right, and a blue one to the left”
  • When we all agree it’s safe to cross, we call out the color of the cars we’re waiting for in each direction: “After the red car on the right and the yellow car on the left”
  • Then I say, “are you ready to go”? And if the kids say yes,  we take off together

This system works well for us. The past couple of weeks, our nine-year-old has been “calling” the intersections for us. She takes pride in being in charge of our safety.

Sometimes a car will stop for us (which they are not required by law to do for cyclists).

Cars who stop for bikes usually give me pause. Do I wave them along and wait for a natural hole in traffic? Or do I accept their gracious gift and cross while they hold up a line of cars?  Sometimes it’s more dangerous when a car stops because for every driver who takes the time to stop, there are 10 more behind them who aren’t so patient and may swerve around to pass on the right or the left or where ever they can squeeze by. I always watch the line of cars and make sure there aren’t any jockeying to pass before we head into the intersection.

The kids know to make eye contact with the drivers and make sure they really are stopped for us before we proceed.

Regardless, the driver of the stopped car always gets a big wave and a smile. They helped send a positive message about drivers by stopping. We strive to return the sentiment and let them know bicyclists see and appreciate their efforts.

Do you have any tips about crossing busy roads with kids?

– Anne

Next up in our transitions series: It’s not you, it’s me

13 responses to “Look Both Ways

  1. Another great tip is to dismount and become a pedestrian. That way the cars DO have to stop or yield for you (depending on the state, in Oregon it’s stop).
    You need to move over out of the main roadway and into the crosswalk area (which is at the corner). Remember, every corner is a crosswalk even if it doesn’t have the paint to show it!

    • We tried this today…and I’m sorry to report that we were not successful. ; – (

      We watched at least 30 cars pass before one finally stopped.

      Our experience this this law is that no one pays attention to it. A couple of years ago I was on foot and crossing with my kids at an unmarked intersection. A Seattle cop was approaching the intersection in his patrol car and he was definitely not planning to stop for us. I went all mama bear on him and waved my arms and mouthed crosswalk so he had to stop. He looked a little sheepish when I glared at him as we crossed.

  2. Love this tip! This is great! We’re just venturing out into biking world so this is perfect timing.

  3. I have been working on this with Claire. One thing we quickly discovered is that I had to switch to calling “Proceed!” because calling “Clear!” sounded too much like “Claire!”

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  5. We often do what Shane does, crossing a street as pedestrians.

    We also distinguish between “All Clear” which means there are no cars, but it’s up to the kid to go when she or he is ready, and “Go” which means proceed immediately unless there are compelling safety reasons not to.

  6. I really appreciate this & look forward to trying the calling out of colored cars together. I definitely find crossing busy streets to be the most stressful part of the boys riding their own bikes. There are a couple of streets where we dismount & walk across but even though it is the law here (with loads of bright yellow IN ROAD signs saying this is the law), so few cars ever stop for pedestrians. Makes me miss Maine…

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  9. I’m still walking with mine if cross streets are busy – he’s a lollygagger and a swooper, so he ends up in the opposite traffic because of going off at 45 degrees because the curb cut goes that way.

    There’s only 2 busy streets to cross between here and his school; one is just a street, with a stoplight, but the other is 4 lanes of traffic that is supposed to stop if there’s a bike wanting to cross. It’s gotten better over the last few years but still only about 75% of the cars actually stop. The ones that stop when no one else is stopping are almost worse than the ones that don’t stop, because the nonstoppers switch lanes to hurtle around them.

    Tuesday, we went to the grocery store along almost the going-to-school route, with me walking and him pedaling. He waits for me to catch up before he crosses, but it was confusing for cars – some stopped, some didn’t and then saw him and freaked out – and also worried some helpful pedestrians who thought he was going to wander out into the street. So Wednesday night we practiced waiting farther from the street, if you’re not actually wanting to cross.

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