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Baby On Board: A Desperate Plea 21

BabyOnBoard2

Photo by Steve and Sara Emry

Driving in North America has reached such a low level of selfishness and entitlement that many parents with young children in their car have succumbed to a desperate plea for safety for their children by erecting a “BABY ON BOARD” sign in their car.

I view these signs as a kinder way of saying “Don’t be such a selfish, entitled jerk and have some respect for the human beings whose lives you are putting in danger by driving your car like a maniac”.

These signs are probably effective because they are a constant reminder of how vulnerable children are in cars. They also add a bit of humanity behind the steel and glass boxes that are so inhumane on the outside.

Sometimes we are wont to forget that inside every car is the child of a mother and a father. An uncle, or an aunt, or a sister or friend or a daughter or a son. And in this case a baby is on board – the most precious and vulnerable of all humans.

I first came to the realization that babies can have a calming effect on traffic a couple years ago when I bought a chariot for my bicycle. At that time I had not yet been a father, so I used the chariot for groceries, transporting miscellaneous goods, or for taking my dog on long trips.

BikeToronto

Trek bike & chariot (2009) – James Schwartz / The Urban Country

I took notice immediately to the effect that the chariot was having on drivers around me. Drivers would provide me significantly more space when they passed, and would curiously slow down before safely and comfortably passing me.

They had of course mistakenly thought that there was a baby in my chariot – but the result was nevertheless a far more pleasant and safe experience.

This caused me to feel both sad and delighted. Delighted that drivers can still be aware, cautious and respectful of more more vulnerable road users. Sad that it took a baby (or the perception of a baby) to bring out this heightened awareness and courteousness.

I am now approaching the two-month point of my trip here in China. I am out on the streets every single day on my bicycle. Sometimes I am sharing the streets with cars, other times I am riding on physically separated bike infrastructure.

I still have not had a single occurrence where a car has passed me uncomfortably close. Not one single occurrence.

I do love my home city Toronto, but hardly a day would go by without cars passing me uncomfortably close – particularly during the evening rush hour when getting home to dinner is more important than another human’s safety and comfort for the office “nine-to-five” car commuters.

Bicycling in Toronto is still safer than a lot of other activities (likely including driving a car on a highway), and while roughly 3 people are killed each year in Toronto on bicycles, 440 people die prematurely from vehicle pollution in Toronto. Many more hundreds also die and acquire diseases from sedentary lifestyles – of which our car dependence is a significant contributor.

Putting it into perspective, in my 9.5 years of living in Toronto, I have never been knocked off my bike (yes, I made sure to knock on wood).

But the lack of perception of safety and feeling of comfort is one of the most important barriers we need to overcome to encourage more people to use a bike in the city.

Sometimes getting squeezed by a driver is all it takes to convince a new cyclist to call it quits and reducing themselves to sardines squeezed inside public transit, or worse yet, adding one more car to the streets and increasing traffic congestion and pollution.

At least riding on public transit feels safer than being exposed on our streets.

But we need to change this by building better infrastructure and changing the negative perception about cycling to make it more comfortable for all humans who ride bicycles– whether they have a “baby on board” or not.

Here is a 2011 video I made of a pleasant bike commute in Toronto (in high speed):

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • http://bicyclestc.blogspot.com/ Ryan

    It is a shame that one incident will put people off. Rachel McAdams apparently gave up cycling in Toronto for a while after a few incidents with buses passing too closely.

    St. Catharines made steps in the right direction over the past few years, however this year it seems like everything is being undone. There are far more vehicles on the road with an increase in aggressive behaviour (towards everyone mind you).
    Still putting things in perspective, your far more likely to die in a car in this city then on a bike.

    As for those ‘Baby on Board’ stickers/tag…Apparently they were first marketed in 1984. Reading wikipedia on them, they are still popular in the UK, Italy & Japan.
    I got a kick out of what George Carlin said about “Baby on Board”: “the three most puke-inducing words that man has yet come up with”

  • http://bicyclesofniagara.tumblr.com/ Ryan

    It is a shame that one incident will put people off. Rachel McAdams apparently gave up cycling in Toronto for a while after a few incidents with buses passing too closely.

    St. Catharines made steps in the right direction over the past few years, however this year it seems like everything is being undone. There are far more vehicles on the road with an increase in aggressive behaviour (towards everyone mind you).
    Still putting things in perspective, your far more likely to die in a car in this city then on a bike.

    As for those ‘Baby on Board’ stickers/tag…Apparently they were first marketed in 1984. Reading wikipedia on them, they are still popular in the UK, Italy & Japan.
    I got a kick out of what George Carlin said about “Baby on Board”: “the three most puke-inducing words that man has yet come up with”

  • Alex

    There are some tight squeezes in that video for sure. I have never been to Toronto, but I travel all the time with my folding bike, and have been to China. I was really surprised, given all the footage I’d seen on TV, but the drivers there were really pretty good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Iamtoddedelman Todd Edelman

    Was the sardines comment really necessary?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Iamtoddedelman Todd Edelman

    Was the sardines comment really necessary?

  • nitramluap

    I can’t stand those stickers, particularly as they’re usually on the back of massive SUVs which are often being driven with no regard for anyone else. Yes, it is a plea to ‘be careful of MY baby’ but to hell with anyone else’s or anyone else…

    They are only slightly better than those nauseating ‘My Family’ stickers. Ugh.

  • nitramluap

    I can’t stand those stickers, particularly as they’re on the back of massive SUVs which are often being driven with no regard for anyone else. Yes, it is a plea to ‘be careful of MY baby’ but to hell with anyone else’s…

    They are only slightly better than those nauseating ‘My Family’ stickers. Ugh.

  • Montrealize

    I’ll never understand why the life of a child is more important than the life of an adult. Like when doctors tell you you shouldn’t ride while pregnant because of the baby. YOU can die in an accident, who cares, but woooow, not the baby…
    Whatever…

  • Montrealize

    I’ll never understand why the life of a child is more important than the life of an adult. Like when doctors tell you you shouldn’t ride while pregnant because of the baby. YOU can die in an accident, who cares, but woooow, not the baby…
    Whatever…

  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    I have long regarded the ‘Baby on Board’ stickers/tag as a warning to others that the driver of this vehicle is not paying a blind bit of notice to the road, so watch out…

  • http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?cat=9 Kim

    I have long regarded the ‘Baby on Board’ stickers/tag as a warning to others that the driver of this vehicle is not paying a blind bit of notice to the road, so watch out…

  • Tyson N

    There is also a segment of the population that will value the life of a dog more than the life of other humans. It always amazes me how friendly and kind people are when I’m out walking my cute little beagle. Those same people won’t even acknowledge me if I’m out walking on my own – the cute beagle builds a bridge of caring that an adult stranger cannot.

  • Tyson N

    There is also a segment of the population that will value the life of a dog more than the life of other humans. It always amazes me how friendly and kind people are when I’m out walking my cute little beagle. Those same people won’t even acknowledge me if I’m out walking on my own – the cute beagle builds a bridge of caring that an adult stranger cannot.

  • http://www.joyofbicyclecommuting.com/ Micheal Blue

    James, your North America must be different from the one I live in. I feel sorry for you if you live in an environment of “such a low level selfishness”. While I live in the same city, I don’t experience that kind of environment, whether cycling, driving, or walking. Yes, some drivers can by “difficult”, but that’s not the norm. I hope that your blog is not on a downward slope of sensationalism and trolling like so many media outlets. The first paragraph of this article certainly sounds like that. BTW, the sign “baby on board” has been around for a long, long time. Let’s keep it congruent :-)

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      Michael, I assume you read beyond the first paragraph? I think the article is reasonable if you get beyond that first paragraph. Riding a bicycle every day for two months in China has made me realize how uncomfortably/dangerously close drivers pass cyclists in North America.

      • http://www.joyofbicyclecommuting.com/ Micheal Blue

        James, yes, I read the whole article. The rest sounds reasonable, but that doesn’t excuse the over-dramatized first paragraph.

        • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

          I think the reaction to the first paragraph is more over-dramatized than the actual first paragraph.

          “Driving in North America has reached such a low level of selfishness and entitlement”.

          I don’t see how this is over-dramatized or trolling, or sensationalist. In Toronto, politicians are ripping out several bike lanes because “bike lanes cause traffic congestion”. Three bike lanes that I am aware of have been ripped out since Ford took office, and Jarvis has been approved to be removed, but hasn’t been ripped out yet.

          If this isn’t an example of selfishness and entitlement by drivers (and by extension, elected politicians), then I don’t know what is.

          Some other things that are happening specifically in Toronto that attest to selfishness and entitlement:

          - Ford’s “subway only” policy, because an LRT system will “slow down traffic”.
          - Ford’s initial claim that he would remove all streetcars off Toronto streets and replace them with buses.
          - The resistance to paying congestion fees.
          - Subsidized parking in the city & resistance to paying market rate for parking.
          - Abolishing the vehicle license fee.
          - Victim blaming in the media.
          - Resistance to almost any new bicycle infrastructure – and particularly separated bike lanes.

          Etc. etc. etc.

  • http://www.joyofbicyclecommuting.com/ Micheal Blue

    James, your North America must be different from the one I live in. I feel sorry for you if you live in an environment of “such a low level selfishness”. While I live in the same city, I don’t experience that kind of environment, whether cycling, driving, or walking. Yes, some drivers can by “difficult”, but that’s not the norm. I hope that your blog is not on a downward slope of sensationalism and trolling like so many media outlets. The first paragraph of this article certainly sounds like that. BTW, the sign “baby on board” has been around for a long, long time. Let’s keep it congruent :-)

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Michael, I assume you read beyond the first paragraph? I think the article is reasonable if you get beyond that first paragraph. Riding a bicycle every day for two months in China has made me realize how uncomfortably/dangerously close drivers pass cyclists in North America.

  • http://www.joyofbicyclecommuting.com/ Micheal Blue

    James, yes, I read the whole article. The rest sounds reasonable, but that doesn’t excuse the over-dramatized first paragraph.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    I think the reaction to the first paragraph is more over-dramatized than the actual first paragraph.

    “Driving in North America has reached such a low level of selfishness and entitlement”.

    I don’t see how this is over-dramatized or trolling, or sensationalist. In Toronto, politicians are ripping out several bike lanes because “bike lanes cause traffic congestion”. Three bike lanes that I am aware of have been ripped out since Ford took office, and Jarvis has been approved to be removed, but hasn’t been ripped out yet.

    If this isn’t an example of selfishness and entitlement by drivers (and by extension, elected politicians), then I don’t know what is.

    Some other things that are happening specifically in Toronto that attest to selfishness and entitlement:

    - Ford’s “subway only” policy, because an LRT system will “slow down traffic”.
    - Ford’s initial claim that he would remove all streetcars off Toronto streets and replace them with buses.
    - The resistance to paying congestion fees.
    - Subsidized parking in the city & resistance to paying market rate for parking.
    - Abolishing the vehicle license fee.
    - Victim blaming in the media.
    - Resistance to almost any new bicycle infrastructure – and particularly separated bike lanes.

    Etc. etc. etc.