I rode the Seattle streetcar today with my nearly two-year-old daughter. It was her first “school” field trip, and her classmates had been excited about it for weeks. There were lively debates in the Rainforest Room about whether the streetcar would be purple or orange. Edie, who wore her lavender shirt for “trolley day,” picked wrong but didn’t mind.
Her daycare class had prepared for the round-trip ride from South Lake Union to Westlake by learning about different kinds of transportation: making trains out of chairs, creating pictures with car wheels dipped in paint, watching seaplanes land in Lake Union, scooping up pebbles with bulldozers, reading books like Donald Crews’ “Freight Train.” But if my kid is any judge, it doesn’t take much to get them excited about mass transit.
“Bus” was one of her first words. She startles strangers on the street by yelling it at the top of her lungs whenever she sees one. Yet she hasn’t actually ridden on one yet. And as I saw how fascinated she was by the streetcar—looking at its reflection in buildings, watching the floor joints move, trying to lick the windows, I found myself asking why I hadn’t done this before.
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In truth, there are lots of reasons: in the beginning, I was overwhelmed by leaving the house at all with a new baby. Then there was era of strollers and bottles and coolers and bags that were hard to juggle. And just around the time we could leave the house with far fewer trappings—only an extra diaper and water bottle, she got squirmy.
But the real issue was that after spending untold hours researching carseats, installing anchors, wrestling one into the back seat, getting it checked, getting your kid into it a jillion times, double checking every time you leave the curb to make sure you didn’t forget to buckle it in a sleep-deprived haze, the idea of letting your toddler sit in a moving vehicle—not strapped into anything—can seem a little weird and scary.
I admit that my grasp of physics and relative risk is not the best. And I probably knew that the images in my head of a three-foot, towheaded kid soaring through the bus aisle in the event of a fender-bender were not entirely realistic. But I hadn’t done any research, and my gut-level aversion won out.
After looking into it, the mom in me still sort of wishes there were seat belts in buses (you can find plenty on that debate here and here), but here are some numbers that made me feel better.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2007 found that, statistically, you’re far more likely to be injured or killed riding in a car than a bus. In fact, riding a bus is safer than walking, bicycling, driving a car, or hopping on a motorcycle. Whether the reason is that sheer size of a bus distributes the crash forces differently or that they travel more slowly, the raw numbers are pretty compelling.
Here are the annualized injury rates (based on 100 million person trips in the US):
- Motorcycle: 10,336
- Bicycle: 1,461
- Car: 803
- Walking: 216
- Bus: 161
And here are the comparable fatality rates:
- Motorcycle: 537
- Bicycle: 21
- Walking: 14
- Car: 9
- Bus: 0.4
The study also breaks down injury and fatality rates by age. Based on its results, it appears I’m not the only one who hasn’t been taking their toddler on the bus. For children aged 0-4 nearly all of the reported injuries occurred while riding in cars or walking.
Now that I’ve seen what delight my daughter can find in a 1-mile streetcar ride, we’ll definitely do the bus next. And I’ll be mindful that we have a greater chance of getting hurt walking to the bus stop than riding on one.
Note: For other parents out there, Bus Chick blogger Carla Saulter offers excellent advice on riding the bus with little kids. She’s a mindbogglingly competent car-free parent, but doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges.
Matt the Engineer
Sounds like a great school. It’s too bad you found out about the bus this late – it was a great way to get around when my son was small enough to wear. Baby on front, backpack on back, and we’d be set for a day’s adventure (I was out of work while he was little, and saw quite a bit of the city this way). Not that it’s too bad now that he’s older (now it’s an umbrella stroller + backpack). But he’s so much happier on my lap, smiling at elderly bus riders, and looking out the window for other buses than he ever is in a car seat.
Yikes! Those stats don’t look too good for bicyclers… But for busers? Yes! Hallelujah! Go Transit!!
As a carfree parent, the times when I took my daughter in a car were what felt “weird and scary.” Instead of cuddling her on my lap, having her close to me in a frontpack, or, now that she’s six, enjoying our books side by side, as we do on the bus, she was strapped tightly into a seat where I couldn’t reach her or comfort her. Riding the bus with infants and small children is wonderful. I’m glad you tried the streetcar and hope you will have many bus adventures.
My son took his first bus ride at 6 weeks old and he was instantly delighted! He always hated the car—being strapped in, not being able to see, sitting backwards—so finally being able to see the world through those big bus windows was a thrill. Between 13 months and 2 years, he spent his days with a nanny who took him for daily treks around our town on her student bus pass, and he loved it. He also grew up riding in the baby jogger, a bike trailer, then the ride-a-long bike attachment. Now 10, he longs for a car-free world and chastises me when we take the car.
I noticed some interesting trends when I looked at the statistics behind the injury and fatality rates for the different types of transportation. For every mode except buses and motorcycles, males have a much higher frequency of injury or death than females. And the likelihood of death or injury varies substantially by age. For motorcycles, there are basically no statistics for anyone under age 24 or over age 65 (the highest risk group for walking and biking) Makes me wonder if some of the reasons are behavioral (e.g., higher risk taking among males), or physical (slower reaction time or reduced fitness) and not inherent to the vehicle or mode. The consequences of an accident when walking or biking may be more likely to result in injury or death because the person is relatively unprotected. If a motorist hits a pedestrian and one is injured and the other isn’t, does that make one “safer” than the other? The consequences of auto accidents often involve a lot of damage beyond injury to the driver, which is much less true of walking or biking accidents. It might be easy to jump to the conclusion from the summary of these statistics that driving is inherently “safer” than walking or biking, but further analysis and definition might be in order.
My husband and I have been car-free for eleven years, and I ride transit daily with our two kids (aged 1 and 5). As a parent, I think riding in cars with my kids is scary, isolating, and boring. Riding transit all their lives has taught my kids some really important things. They’ve learned how to wait. They’ve learned how to be a respectful part of a community that includes people who don’t look or act like they do. They’ve learned that travel is more than getting from point A to point B, and is a rich experience all the way. We’ve had quality time to read books, discuss tricky topics, tell stories, cuddle, eat snacks, and generally enjoy the ride. We’ve also had some miserable trips, encountered some unpleasant people, and learned some bad words, but it’s been absolutely worth it, and not a sacrifice.
Some of my fondest memories involve riding buses, specifically electric trolleys, with my grandmother on Queen Anne Hill when I was very young. As I grew older and more independent, I graduated to taking the bus to Seattle and Bellevue with my friends in high school. As I entered the working world, I utilized public transportation when it was available for my commute. It was hit or miss for a while since my place of work moved around the Seattle area quite frequently. The years of positive experiences built up to the point where I finally decided *driving* the bus might actually be an interesting career. I can happily report that it has been for almost 4 years and I’m looking forward to more.I’m not suggesting taking your child on the bus will put them on track towards a rewarding career in Public Transportation. However, getting them started early will teach them all the things, and more, that Sara has pointed out above. That said, may I remind everybody that “eat[ing] snacks” should be done while waiting for the bus, not on it? 🙂
Bike v car v transit safety: for more on it, see my 2007 piece Safe Streets, here: http://www.sightline.org/daily_score/archive/2007/10/08/safe-streets-bicycle-neglect-7
Matt the Engineer
[Dave] My first reaction to your facts was that perhaps commuting has a significant effect. Though our modern world is more balanced than it had been, I’m sure there are quite a few more men in the commuting workforce than women. And I wonder if this puts far more driving miles under mens’ belts. But on further reflection, staying home these days doesn’t mean staying home as much as it means running around shopping, dropping off the kids at various activities, etc. So perhaps I’m looking in the wrong direction for justifying the difference in numbers.
VeloBusDriver,Being currently situated on the Key Peninsula where it takes me 4-6 buses to get to Seattle over a period of 3-5 hours (depending on the time of day), plus 3-5 hours to get back, I’ve come to appreciate “snack times” while waiting for the bus(es)! 🙂
“Yikes! Those stats don’t look too good for bicyclers… But for busers? Yes! Hallelujah! Go Transit!!”Yes but bicyclist make up for in in lower rates of heart disease and obesity related health issues. Motorcyclists refer to car drivers as “Monkeys in cages” and if you have ever read about obesity in zoo animals you know how appropriate this analogy is.The top five cause for mortality in America are:(1) Heart Attacks and Heart Diseases 28.5%(2) Cancer 22.8%(3) Stroke 6.7%(4) Emphasema and Bronchitus 5.1%(5) All Accidents 4.4%Note your chance of dying in a car is generally 1 in 50 or 2% so Bicycling exclusively would increase that to 6%Now lets add the next (6) Diabetes 3.0%So by bicycling regularly and thus being in shape you can basically eliminate lower your risk of diabetes 3% and greatly reduce your risk of early heart attacks 28.5% and early stroke 6.7% for a grand total of close to 38%. (Yes I know I am wiggling the numbers) versus tripling your rate of dying in a bicycle accident to 6%.Stop the yikes and get out of your cage and onto a bicycle. Your heart, isles of langerhans (insulin), and brain will thank you.Charles
It’d take an awfully long time to bicycle from the Key Peninsula to Seattle and back… Hence, my car-free *adoration* of buses—and of wide shoulders on the sides of the roads with big white lines for walkers and bicyclers who also live car-free in the country, and/or who just love the exercise. 😉
The difference in numbers between men and women is that men are on average worse at managing risk on a day-to-day basis.
pdx transit rider
One of the delights of using mass transit is sharing in the excitement with children. Just yesterday, standing on the Max light rail platform there was a young girl of about 3 jumping up and down with excitement as the train pulled up, “here it comes, here it comes.” My mundane trip downtown was turned turned into an adventure!Mass transit is also an excellent opportunity for your children to meet people from all walks of life if you live in a insular neighborhood.
Car accidents are the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 35.http://www.sightline.org/daily_score/archive/2010/08/04/mom-are-we-there-yet
Gotta give a huge shoutout for the Sounder commuter train, too. Rode it for the first time today. Totally in love!
Greetings from Philadelphia,Was out of work for most of past two years, sold car for cash to stave off eviction, been riding the buses since February to retail job with crazy hours.Grew up back in ’60’s living near 69th Street Terminal (end of subway, hub for bus lines throughout western suburbs). Note, walking that neighborhood these days, how many ‘child care centers’ have opened in the Terminal’s vicinity since then. And find, riding home at night, how many people are bringing babies and toddlers home at 9 and 10 PM.
It would be great if you could add in the injury and fatality rates for subway, train, and air transportation.
I’ll bet that many of the walking and bicycle fatalities were caused by a collision with a car or other motor vehicle. I find it hard to imagine some way to die while walking that has nothing to do with a motor vehicle… maybe a trip and fall, being attacked? I guess it hard to tell the detail from the numbers given above. Car accidents are the number one cause of accidental death from age 6 months – 75 years, pretty much all age groups. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Causes_of_accidental_death_by_age_group.png