I like bicycles. I rode one in high school for fun long after everyone else had sold theirs in a garage sale. Sadly, in junior high I did not stick up for our librarian who rode her bike to work. I remember we made fun of her, scoffing at her efforts to save the environment. Of course, she could have ridden a bike just because she liked it, but all we could see was someone different. Of course, we were driven to school by our normal parents.
So I have been thinking of this for awhile. Why don't more children bike to school? Many attribute it to fear of kidnapping and pedophiles, but I think something else is going on as well. While I do think that fear plays a significant role, it does not completely explain the efforts against bicycles for children in junior high and high school. These are children that have a modicum of good judgement, and ability to defend themselves and call for help.
Cars represent control.
As a parent, driving them to and from school gives you the ability to control your children's whereabouts all day. You know they go to school in the morning, and when you pick them up right after the bell rings, you know they have not had any time to get into trouble.
This applies to other scenarios as well. You drop them off at the movies, you know with relative certainty that they will not be able to go anywhere else. Of course, teenagers and tweens are wily, and limited transportation can be worked around, but the point remains that if you provide the sole means of transportation for your child, you have significant control over their lives. We are in the era of the helicopter parents.
Now add a bicycle to the mix. You allow your fourteen year old to get themselves to school, how do you know they aren't getting themselves in trouble? How do you know if they come straight home? Bicycles, like cars, represent a certain level of freedom that many parents are not comfortable with. Cars of course offer more freedom, but their use is limited to sixteen and up, an age many parents are willing to give more responsibility then. I believe many parents aren't willing to allow that sort of freedom before sixteen, and that is why you do not see more children bicycling to school or to activities.
Is this line of thinking a little strained? Perhaps, but I don't think parents always think logically when it comes to their children. Teenagers manage to get themselves in trouble, access to a bicycle or not. Certainly, in other parts of the world where bicycle use among all ages is more common, they have found ways to keep tabs on their children. Perhaps there they have a more "it takes a village" approach. Perhaps they have discovered that device on your phone that allows you to keep track of your kid through GPS.
Whatever it is, bicycle use will not rise until parents are willing to relinquish some control, real or imagined, over their children. The woman that allowed her child to ride the subway when he was seven was flayed in the public sphere, that is indicative of our collective thinking towards children and transportation. Until she and others like her are held up as someone who made a rational choice, we will probably not see an increase in bicycle use among tweens and young teens.