Going places: travel patterns as a bike riding at home dad

We just finished Active Transportation Alliance's Winter Bike Challenge. It was great fun and I was even lucky enough to win some swag from their daily drawing. Active Trans has a tracking app to help track and report your miles and trips during the challenge. It was amazing to see the totals for miles, trips, CO2 offset, and calories burned. The aggregate totals are amazing, but so are some of the totals for many of the individuals. There are many individuals who through both their commutes and their recreation racked up hundreds of miles during the two week challenge. Compared to this collection of some 400 participants, my miles were not terribly impressive. With about 80 miles in two weeks, I was not very high in the rankings (maybe in the middle 1/3). Looking through the data that Active Trans collected by holding this challenge, I did learn/recognize that my travel patterns did not look like the typical participant.

Rolling home from Elgin Standing Together
As an at-home dad on bike, my travel patterns do not look much like those of a full-time out of the house worker. From a casual review of the data, it seemed that a majority of the active daily participants were traveling two trip segments a day and traveling distances of 5-20 miles a segment. My distances per trip are not far on average (about a 1.3 mile/trip), but with a total of 60 trip segments recorded during the challenge, I averaged about 4 trip segments a day. This kind of trip frequency turned out to make my trip count the top number of trips among all of the participants in the Winter Bike Challenge. There were not any prizes for trip count, but it did keep me in those daily drawings.

This kind of experience matches up with part of the experience observed in gender-framed studies of use of public space (Third Wave Urbanism- listen more here or Cities in Transition- read more here). As with many aspects of at-home-dading, gender paradigms can get flipped on their head or disrupted. I do not have the exact same kinds of safety concerns articulated in the above articles, but I do share usage style and patterns. Women when functioning in the roll of home-maker or lead parent have tended to limit travel to shorter distances from home, higher trip frequency to complete errands, and travel outside of peak commuter rush hours. These kinds of patterns shape the ways people interact and utilize public space (ex: streets, buses, trains, sidewalks, parks).

Viking biking to the park
I am an active transportation user with children in a suburban city. This might put me in the category of statistical outlier, but it does give me some interesting perspective on the transportation systems of Elgin (or at least the parts of Elgin I frequent). In all of my transportation preferences, I prefer slower car traffic. By bike, walking, and bus, I am a vulnerable street user and the faster traffic is moving the higher the risks are for me and my children. I do not stay at my destinations for more than a few hours, if I even stay for a full hour. This means that I am back on the street for another short distance trip. My trip frequency along these more limited areas of travel also gives me a sampling of certain routes at different times of day. My commute to work times up with an early work commute with others. This time of year it is a pre-dawn ride and between light and the commuter mission of the drivers on the street, it is often my most stressful ride of the day.

My transportation concerns tend to be hyper-local. For me and my family, downtown Elgin is in and of itself multiple destinations all tightly clustered together. In a single day (particularly warm ones), we could stop by a park, the library, a cafe, and maybe even an art studio. As a vulnerable street user downtown, replacing all the traffic lights with stop signs would make moving about downtown safer and more enjoyable for me, and probably a safer, more vibrant place for everyone.

What are your travel patterns? How do they shape your concerns? How can we keep making our public space better for all of us? Happy pedaling!


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