Two weeks ago I attended an Active Living conference sponsored by Blue Cross. In general it was a great conference, especially when RT and Al Frankin showed up to ride bikes around the conference hall. Besides the sessions and the food, one thing I really enjoyed was being able to ride my bike to the conference for two days. I no longer work close to where I live, and I’ve missed it. I took it for granted when I could do it, and didn’t ride nearly enough.
However one thing I realized over the course of two days was that even if I worked within an easy ride of my house, and even if I had good lanes and paths, I probably couldn’t do it if there wasn’t daycare close to my house. By close I mean within a quarter mile. A number of factors converge to make this the case, which I think are likely common to many households:
- My significant other cannot pick up and drop off the little one everyday. Schedules and basic fairness make this so.
- Young children don’t like to do anything for 30 minutes. This includes ride in a bike trailer.
- I’m not interested in hauling my daughter in a bike trailer through rush hour traffic for 30 minutes. I consider myself more committed to the cause of active living than most, but for the average person, there has to be no concerns about safety, especially when it comes to kids, if they are to change their habits.
On the other hand, if there were some options for daycare within a short walk of my house, I could ride home, walk to the daycare and pick up the kid. In the morning I could walk or bike the short distance. A quarter or a half mile means between a 5 and 10 minute walk each way, not a big deal, especially in the summer.
We know that long distances between origins and destinations, and a lack of mixed use contribute to reduced walking and biking for transportation purposes. Lack of easy access to child care services can be a consequence of both of these things, and I believe a barrier to more non-motorized transportation.
What does this mean for planning our cities? Well, if you let the market for daycare centers work on its own, it will likely be driven (no pun intended) by accessibility by car, rather than accessibility by foot or bike or transit. Child care may be more widely spaced, and perhaps in larger centers, rather than more tightly spaced in smaller centers. These are assumptions, which I hope to test with some real data from my city. Then I’ll explore some ideas for what might make things better. Stay tuned.