Transportation, parenting and urban life

A colleague/friend who works in transportation planning asked me a few questions yesterday about the experience of parents with school-age children and public transportation. I got on a bit of a rant, which nicely resonates thematically with my non-dad blog, so linkie-linkie. Here’s my reply, which is informed by¬†Henri Lefebvre and Peter-Paul Verbeek, the two thinkers whose work best bookends my thinking on technology, ethics, and urban life these days. I don’t reference them directly, so you can read on in anticipation of my vulgar street-snark without citations, and just trust that I’m channelling them correctly…

Hmm…beyond the stinkeye I give to parents who idle their cars in the cul de sac at pick up or drop off time (contrary to school policy), I don’t know of any activist efforts on this. You probably know more than me about it – for instance I’m not aware of the group that pressed for strollers to be recognized as mobility aids by Translink…

Anecdotally, most (which is like 2) of the parents I know who send their kids cross-catchment are very affluent and busy, which means that they don’t think twice about putting another combustion engine on the streets twice a day, everyday to send their snookums to some special school where they do algebra in the woods, or set fire to ant colonies or something. And catchment boundaries are pretty strictly (though in my experience only informally) enforced, which means schools are already accessible via walking. So I’m guessing, based on my limited data, that public transit isn’t on most school-age children’s parents’ radar.

Preschoolers are a different story. A micropolitical analysis of sorts: Child care centers that are pressed for space don’t allow stroller parking, typically, which means parents either leave their strollers locked up outside (to get destroyed by the elements), or unsecured (it will be stolen if not bolted down), or they cart it home empty on public transit, which invites derision and threats of violence in some cases (I can produce a screencap of this if you want). And some parents are carting around 2 or 3 at once (either all their own kids, or they’re taking up the slack off another parent left out in the cold by virtue of the fact that child care is unaffordable, inaccessible, and deregulated in BC and Canada). It’s wonderful that Translink is now on board with the idea that strollers constitute a mobility aid and therefore deserve special treatment on transit vehicles – though I must report that there was about a 2-3 year learning curve for many East Side bus drivers who still refused service to or berated passengers for bringing a stroller onto a bus.

Long and short of my experience is this: becoming a parent is transformative – your habitual ways of doing things become challenged, and the structure of everyday urban life (including transit infrastructure) doesn’t set a parent up to make ethical or sustainable choices very easily. This, to my mind, explains why so many new parents return to driving cars after being avid transit users when they were childless. It’s one part path dependence (we learned when we were kids that families drove around in cars) and three parts the ethos of overconsumption and ecological violence being built into a present urban system that, despite all its green overtures (i.e., green roofs that require a ladder to access, East Side back alleys filled with fruit flies and rats) privileges motorized prostheses as subjects with rights etc.

I got carried away with this so I’m posting it to Facebook.

So there you have it: kid, bus, class warfare.