Around where I live and bike I am one of the very few who cycle on the roads and would have to agree many are too dangerous for kids and even most adults not skilled in riding in traffic.I do ,however,see many kids on foot and bike going to the nearby high/pre-high schools using the sidewalks .As I am sure some will point out,though,at road crossings ,particularly of the major highways, I feel safer on the road than sidewalk .While most cars seem pretty good at yielding to kids in these situations,I have seen one or two cases of kids on bikes crossing the major highway ,nearby, where I have shuttered and thought "that is dangerous".Also not too far away there is a high speed surburban road notorious for kids on bikes getting hit,and too often killed, while attempting to cross to a nearby park.
I am afraid ,though, this is where I might actually have issues with advocacy for more to become car-free .To get more people particularly surburban family types car-free the safety issue has to be addressed.And what these types and most concerned with safety seem to want is more mup's and other alternatives to get cyclists off the roadways and away from cars.
I ,on the otherhand,prefer the status quo where cyclists ,generally, are exspected(by law at least) to use the roadways but kids or even adults where conditions(or their riding skills in traffic)dictate can use the sidewalks or bikepaths as an alternative.I am not sure I want to see the changes and loss of right to ride on the road that would be required to get the masses out of their cars and onto bikes for transportation.
But to attempt to answer your question more directly, I think it varies greatly with the circumstances.I am not parent, but would think at a fairly young age kids could safely be allowed to learn to ride on mup's etc.(away from major road crossings).On the other hand,many roadways are not particular safe, even for many adults,without aquiring much skill and confidence riding in traffic,and ,as such, think one might need to be at least of auto driving age to handle.For examle,many of the roadways I now routinely ride on,I started out by riding along the sidewalks until the skill and confidence gradually developed.I will have to admit bikeforums and particularly the advocacy and safety forum did help greatly with this process.
As a father I was always concerned about my suburban kids being unable to explore their world in a meaningful way on their own. Several other fathers I've talked with over the years shared that regret. Like me, the fathers I've talked to grew up bike-mobile in small and medium size cities as early as 10 or 11. That was not considered unusual or unsafe by the majority of parents at that time.
Oh, the things I was able to do with my bike. I was all over town scrounging up parts for projects, looking in the libraries and bookstores, visiting friends and cousins, hanging out at the college electronics research lab after school, going swimming in the summer, exploring county parks, hauling around dogs and stuff like that.
Suburban kids have lost something really important by having restricted mobility. Of course it's not just the traffic and distances that have changed. There's also a pervasive fear of, well, just about everything. But I guess the last point isn't specifically about cycling.
Ummmm... when everyone's dead and gone and only small children remain?
Seriously, though. I think when they are old enough to know better than to let strangers intice them into a car or be able to at least run away when approached, along with being old enough to be left at home alone, and they know the rules of the road, then... that's when they can bike alone. I don't know what that age is. I guess it depends on when the parents teach their children better.
A lot depends on what your community has done to make cycling safer for children. Most have done nothing. Some things to lobby for include neighborhood schools, crossing guards, safety patrols, safe house programs, bicycle education in school and at home, road signage, and driver awareness. Some of these are fairly cheap and easy on a neighborhood basis. We safely rode bikes (and walked) when I was a child in the 1960s because these programs were routinely in place.
One thing that makes everyone safer, is getting people out of their cars and back ONTO the streets, walking, biking, etc. The streets were safer way back when, because kids were riding their bikes while Mrs Reismueller was out walking with her little cart to the market, the older kids who'd today have cars, were out on their big bikes, the schoolteachers were walking home or at the bus stop up at the end of the street and could see what goes on, people were out there walking, biking, doing errends, etc. And if a kid did something wrong, someone was going to tell their parents becaus people knew each other as people, not as shiny metal boxes racing by at great speed. And people knew what went on around the neighborhood because humans LOVE to gossip, it's a survival instinct, constantly gossiping monkeys are monkeys that are always looking out for each other even if it doesn't always seem that way.
I remember bikes racks at schools being stuffed too, mainly high schools, elementary schoolers walked or a few dropped off by Mom.
I remember back in the early 1960's the bike racks were always nearly full at the elementary and junior high school I attended. Very few kids even locked their bikes. Times have sure changed.
In all honesty I would never bring my bike to school these days. I'm going into my sophmore year in high school. Daily there is about 10 bikes at my school in the bike rack, all X-mart bikes. My bike would stick out like a sore thumb. Not to mention what kids these so these days to bikes. When some guys who think they are the coolest walk by the bikes, they'll kick them, spit on em. It's kinda sad how high schoolers act towards bikes these days. Anyone who rides a bike to them are losers who can't afford a car. I can't wait for college I'll make sure I go to a bike friendly school (UCSB ).
Exactly. I just happen to live in a town w/ a lot of wealthly neighborhoods, and a ton of kids get cars from the parents. BMW's Mercedes, theres a kid w/ a Hummer, one w/ an Escalade. It sucks.
MattP, I don't know where you stand with respect to having a BMW, Mercedes, Hummer or an Escalade. But as far as I'm concerned, a car that comes as a gift counts for zero, zip, nada as a status symbol for some high school kid. You could always get a real admiring look on your face and say something like, "That car rules!! You must have had to work a lot to pay for it!!"
Haw, I'd go to Dad or Mom and ask them if it's okay if I tried to save them some money by getting around on a bike for a few more years. Be sure you know what to do if they faint & fall on the floor.