By the end of this post, I’m hoping you’ll want to take your grandkids (or have your parents take your kids) places in Carrboro by bike.

Many of you without kids, or without parents who live close by if you have kids, may think this is not about you. You’re in this picture too, because it’s about what has to be true in the town we all live in if a grandparent and one or more grandkids zipping by on a bike is going to be a common sight.

But why, besides the obviously adorable mental picture of a gray-haired grandmother or  grandfather and a giggling child together on a bike, would we want this to be common? Is it that regular cycling conveys health benefits? Surely I should make that argument to you, dear reader, rather than rope in your kin.

My reason for framing this argument around a kin pairing is that I’ve seen innumerable charts and diagrams and User Studies with colored stickers about transportation modes, but these don’t capture the experience of starting at Weaver Street Market and ending at the Farmer’s Market (or vice versa) on a Saturday morning. Many of you will instantly have a picture in your head, or can recall the bustling sounds associated with these, and you can probably list a range of pleasant sights, sounds, and smells. Lovely, yes? A huge range of policies and priorities had to be true for a period of years to bring that bustle.

Let’s act on the policy levers that up the chances of seeing grandparents with grandkids on bikes

My argument is that we will have more of the kinds of scenes you love about Carrboro if we identify and act on the policy levers that up the chances of seeing grandparents with grandkids on bikes, but it is also that there are already opportunities to have grandparents go places with grandkids by bike today, and doing that now leads more people to see the kinds of changes that will keep Carrboro vibrant for generations to come.

Here are a few things that keep grandparents from biking places with grandkids.

  1. You can’t get there from here. Going from home to a friend’s house, or to WSM, requires going out to a busy artery rather than the more direct route because going directly means a too-challenging trail, a steep hill with no steps or switchback ramps, or some other awkward or scary stretch.
  2. It’s too far. E-bikes can mostly fix this, but if people know they’re going way out of their way to feel safe (see #1), they may never bother to try. They’ll figure it will take too long, and they want quality time with the grandkid!
  3. Weather. If the short and easy way from here to there is a dirt path, a rain makes it mud. A trail that feels okay when it has been dry for a week is suddenly too challenging if it’s raining.
  4. Careless drivers. Many cyclists have had an ‘almost’ moment with what is now a “normal” pickup truck size, and recognize intuitively that a stripe of paint on the pavement will do nothing to keep a distracted driver of a 4000+ pound vehicle from hitting them.

Fortunately Carrboro has a bike plan that will address most of the above for many neighborhoods. We can do more, and faster, if we work together to make it happen.

This is about more than just bikes. This is about public health, climate action, housing (providing the missing middle housing would help create more walkable and bikable neighborhoods), and just plain joy. Need another reason? Less time in cars means safer roads for everyone, so let’s get excited about the Bolin Creek Greenway and keep our eyes on the prize: the adorable sight of seeing grandparents out with their grandkids on bikes.

In closing, a list of reasons that seeing grandparents biking with their grandkids is both good and adorable:

  1. Come ON. Have you seen the little cheeks and the ridiculous hair that small children all have? That’s adorable on its own, and add the contrast of gray hair and it just goes to eleven.
  2. Bikes are good exercise. If going places with grandkids is the thing that gets a grandparent biking more, maybe that’s a few more healthy years that grandparent can spend with the kid.
  3. Biking is at human scale, and all your senses still work. You can hear and smell the world around you, and you can easily pause to let a toddler hold a leaf, and explain what kind of plant it came from. That’s some bonding time with the grandkids.
  4. Biking with the grandkids models healthy choices for the kids.
  5. Promotes independence. Kids as young as two will demand to be on a trail-a-bike, kick bike, or other apparatus that gives them some control and challenge.
  6. Promotes socialization. While the grandparent was stopped to hand the kid a leaf, some friends came up and a chat started.
  7. You just know the parents need a nap. Let’s get the kids out with the grandparents so they can nap.
  8. Have you SEEN little kids in a bucket seat??
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0: Mark Stosberg.

In the last municipal election cycle, we helped increase turnout by over 20 percent. We're all volunteers who care deeply about Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and we're working to make Chapel Hill and Carrboro more vibrant, accessible, fun, and sustainable.  Please consider a small donation to help us keep our digital lights on, host events, and hire students to do data deep-dives.

Cristóbal Palmer is a Carrboro resident, new parent, graduate of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and loyal attendant to the two cats who...