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  1. #1
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    Child Trailers and Road / Traffic Conditions

    This may be a somewhat self-selected group in which to ask the question, but I'm interested in what road conditions (speed, shoulder, traffic level etc) people accept when towing small children.

    I live in a suburban area criss-crossed with train tracks, rivers and an interstate. For recreational riding with kids there are wonderful trail options. However, transport (I'm trying to get car-lite-r) is more problematic. On quiet neighborhood streets I am very comfortable, and I tend to ride lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree (in daylight). Going any appreciable distance involves crossing tracks / river / interstate, and only the 40mph arterials (with 50mph real speeds) actually do this. Towing a trailer through a high-curbed, unlit, pot-holed underpass with 50mph traffic is not my idea of a good time.

    The alternative is to take to the sidewalk for .5 - 1 mile stretches. This obviously requires going very slowly (to properly monitor turning traffic) and I walk any major crossings. Drivers around here aren't even expecting pedestrians in these spots, for the most part.

    Alone (or towing inanimate objects) I do ride in traffic when necessary; I try to select quieter routes as a risk management strategy, but I'm basically comfortable. And I'm assuming my own risks. It may not be entirely rational but I find it very hard not to feel differently with a child on board. Honestly, I'm inclined just to drive this sort of trip.

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
    Senior Member CliffordK's Avatar
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    I don't have the kids, but I tow a utility trailer from time to time. What I've noticed is that most cars (not all) tend to give me much more space when passing my trailer vs passing just me on the bike. I'm not sure about towing kids in the trailer, but I imagine it would be similar.

    Some sidewalks can be a pain as they are often not designed for bike trailers, and often have bollards, or tight corners. But, I might consider mostly riding on the roads, but choosing a few overpasses/underpasses where I would jump onto the sidewalk.

    Do you have roadside bike paths?

  3. #3
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    Thanks Clifford - yes, I have also found that the majority of drivers give more room; I sometimes use the trailer for groceries etc but of course, since it's an enclosed child trailer, drivers don't know there isn't an infant in there. In case I sound car-phobic, my experience is that 99% of drivers behave perfectly decently around bikes, and I think that goes up to 99.9% when kids are involved.

    Quote Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
    Do you have roadside bike paths?
    Do you mean a true bike path (in which case "no") or a walking path set back and separated from the curb by a strip of grass (in which case "sometimes")? The sidewalk is slow for all the reasons you state, plus garbage cans, parked cars on driveways, extra care crossing entrances etc.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  4. #4
    Senior Member CliffordK's Avatar
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    Maybe you need to add a Kid's on board sign.



    I suppose the problem isn't the 99% of drivers, but that 1% or 0.1% or 0.01% of drivers.

    Your kid's safety is important.

    How old are the kids? Would you feel more comfortable with a tag-a-long tandem, or perhaps even a real tandem with a child stoker kit.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
    I suppose the problem isn't the 99% of drivers, but that 1% or 0.1% or 0.01% of drivers.

    Your kid's safety is important.

    How old are the kids? Would you feel more comfortable with a tag-a-long tandem, or perhaps even a real tandem with a child stoker kit.
    Right - it's no comfort how small a minority a driver that hits you belongs to.

    Kid is too young (3) for a tag-a-long right now IMO, but something like that is on the horizon in a year or so.

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    I don't use a trailer, but have three kids on the back of my longtail Mundo. I tend to stick to residential streets or roads with bike lanes in them. I'm still a bit skittish riding with the kids on roads with a bike lane where cars are traveling 40 or so, I can't imagine doing so on a road w/o bike lanes. And that's with them physically being on a bike that I can lay down on the curb if I see someone in my rear view mirror coming too close; I imagine I would be even more apprehensive with a trailer.

  7. #7
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    Yeah. Don't really see that there's a good solution to this one, just interested to know whether others attempt this kind of riding.

    Not that it's currently a serious ambition anyway, but this would be a major obstacle to going car-free out here in the 'burbs. I'll have to investigate public transport more closely, I think.

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    Ride the sidewalks. I do from time to time. I typically find business and activities close to where I live. If all else fails....I take the minivan.

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    Some Guy on the Road Wittyname's Avatar
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    I regularly pick up my son from daycare with his Weehoo trailer, the two miles there is 85% 2lane road, little/no shoulder, 35-40mph speed limit. The other 15% is the residential street in/out of the neighborhood. I have had no issues so far, and as others have said, drivers seem extra cautious around me; that is, not passing closely, more willingness on their part to just follow and not pass, etc

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    I wouldn't dare put my kids 3' from 35-40 mile an hour traffic with nothing between them and an oncoming cement truck but a piece of fabric. Unless it is side roads and MUP's accept the fact that you are going to drive.

  11. #11
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    Lots of different opinions, which is to be expected, I guess! I wonder if the differences are mostly personal risk tolerance, or location and bike-friendliness of the local culture.

    The sidewalk is currently my least-worst option, @DAME, but it's so darn slow to do it safely.

  12. #12
    Senior Member puckett129's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Earl Grey View Post
    Right - it's no comfort how small a minority a driver that hits you belongs to.
    I just purchased a trailer and it should be here tomorrow. I have a (just turned) 1 year old that I have been waiting a year to get on the bike with me. I am a little apprehensive about this too. I ride in traffic and don't think much of it. The problem is that it only takes one incident. When you start to convert speeds from mph into feet/second and start to realize the distance a moving vehicle can travel at relatively low speeds, the reaction time of drivers, the effective stopping distance of vehicles, and the magnitude of force that they can exert then it gets scary.

    As a parent I want nothing more than to protect my kid, but as a driver I know how eff'd up - let's be honest - 60% of drivers are. There are no protected bike lanes in my city and there's next to no traffic enforcement.

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    Senior Member CliffordK's Avatar
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    Thinking about it, I've managed to flip my cargo trailer 3 times in the last year or so. Twice empty, and once loaded. Now, I think they have seat belts and a pretty good roll cage, but I could imagine the stories a 3 yr old would tell if flipped.

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    Senior Member enigmaT120's Avatar
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    What made it flip?
    Ed Miller
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    Quote Originally Posted by puckett129 View Post
    I just purchased a trailer and it should be here tomorrow. I have a (just turned) 1 year old that I have been waiting a year to get on the bike with me. I am a little apprehensive about this too. I ride in traffic and don't think much of it. The problem is that it only takes one incident. When you start to convert speeds from mph into feet/second and start to realize the distance a moving vehicle can travel at relatively low speeds, the reaction time of drivers, the effective stopping distance of vehicles, and the magnitude of force that they can exert then it gets scary.

    As a parent I want nothing more than to protect my kid, but as a driver I know how eff'd up - let's be honest - 60% of drivers are. There are no protected bike lanes in my city and there's next to no traffic enforcement.

    Maybe it would comfort you to know that in 2013, nationwide, the NHTSA reports that there were only 3 "cyclists" under age 5 killed and fewer than 500 were reported injured out of a population of 20 million.

  16. #16
    Senior Member snow_echo_NY's Avatar
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    i have this same problem but our roads are designated for 25 mph. however there are cars that will go 40-50 on these small roads.

    i would ride the sidewalks if i felt unsafe.

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    Senior Member CliffordK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by enigmaT120 View Post
    What made it flip?
    My trailers have spring attachments... so pretty flexy... which is good.

    Most of the "flips" were due to speed??? Plus Curbs.

    • The first one I was shooting through Eugene at dusk, close to 20 MPH, empty. A turn lane pulled off to the right, with a small curb barrier that I didn't see.
    • The second one, was a pothole (or missing chunk of the road shoulder) in front of a sawmill in Springfield.
    • The third time (loaded) was cutting from a roundabout to a rails to trails median strip bike path in Springfield. The corner isn't designed for high speed biking.


    RosaParksRoundABout.jpg

    I usually take the path marked in red, with the traffic (and am very vigilant when doing so). Alternatively one can take a sidewalk and push a button activating a blinking light, marked in blue.

    Traffic is generally low to moderate when I hit it.

    When I take the roundabout, I first merge left into traffic (so I will end up in the left lane).
    Merge into the roundabout
    Then there is a hard left to get into the trail followed by a hard right onto the trail. Then another hard right and left crossing the bus lane
    I snagged the curb at the corner first getting onto the path (blue arrow) which actually has to be negotiated at a fairly high speed.

    I suppose I like merging with traffic as think it keeps the traffic flow better (no need for the cars to stop for a crosswalk)... and no need to trust that the cars will actually stop at the crosswalk. And I hate the lights and buttons and all that.

    I suppose the sidewalks wouldn't be bad for a 90 right hand turn through the roundabout, but I refuse to walk my bike through a 180 route through the roundabout, and I avoid that whole roundabout when needing to negotiate a 270 turn (left hand turn).

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by mel2012 View Post
    Maybe it would comfort you to know that in 2013, nationwide, the NHTSA reports that there were only 3 "cyclists" under age 5 killed and fewer than 500 were reported injured out of a population of 20 million.
    Although I think cycling in general is safer than perceived (and stats can help with this), knowing the raw frequency without knowing the exposure is not particularly comforting. How often do we see child trailers being towed on a 40+ limit road? I literally don't think I've ever seen anyone else do it in my immediate area.

    I do see lots of trailers on the 20mph neighborhood streets and trails.

  19. #19
    Senior Member CliffordK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Earl Grey View Post
    I literally don't think I've ever seen anyone else do it in my immediate area.
    Anyone else????

    I do see cargo trailers in a variety of conditions, but not very many out of town.

    However, I think you're right, the ones carrying children are usually reserved for neighborhood streets and bike paths. How do they get onto the bike paths? So, people are naturally choosing places they think will have a lower exposure to risk.

  20. #20
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    I really mean it. I don't believe I've ever seen a child trailer on any of the suburban 40mph arterials. I suspect you have a stronger transportation cycling culture in Eugene - cargo trailers are a rarity here.

    Exposure is the problem with the NHTSA figures. They don't show exposure, just absolute frequency (sometimes with total human population as a stand-in for exposure, which is absurd). E.g. their data shows that the period between midnight and 3am has the smallest number of fatalities. What value is anyone supposed to get from that?

  21. #21
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    I have used a converted kids trailer for hauling for the last two years; clocked hundreds of miles on suburban streets with it. I've left the fabric intact so people can't easily tell whether there's a kid in there or not. A few notes:

    I completely agree with CliffordK's first response: people give me tremendously more room when I'm hauling the trailer, and in fact I've had dozens of people cede right-of-way to me when they didn't have to (something that never happens without the trailer on). I also would advise against riding on sidewalks, unless you've scouted them ahead of time and know there are no "pinch points" or narrow sections; the trailer is wide and relatively far behind you, so navigating through narrow points can be difficult.

    I've never flipped my trailer ... never even come close ... even when I've accidentally dropped a wheel off of a sidewalk.

    I've regularly ridden with my trailer on arterial streets with speed limits of 40 or 45mph, even occupying the lane when (an otherwise nice) bike lane disappears for 100 or so yards; it's been fine. In fact, occupying lanes and other such techniques are much easier with a trailer (see note above).

  22. #22
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    I am not a fan of towing kids in trailers for a variety of reasons (the physical separation from the bike, being right down at bumper / exhaust pipe level, unable to talk to my kid while riding, etc.). I prefer to have them on the bike. Right now I transport a 7 year old and a 3 year old on the deck of a Yuba Mundo, and we also have a Bobike Maxi+ for the 3 year old that will be going on my wife's bike as soon as the adapter arrives.

    I live in a city where the speed limit is 30 mph. Sometimes we go through an older suburb but I take residential side streets (also with a 30 mph limit) and avoid the higher-speed arterial roads. I would not be comfortable with riding with kids in 35+ mph traffic (frankly I avoid such roads myself whenever possible and generally try to pick side streets that cross those big roads rather than riding on them).

    I appreciate the complaint about "bottlenecks" like highways where only certain big roads cross them. Even in the city, we have a number of places like that where there are few good options to get from one area to another.

  23. #23
    Senior Member snow_echo_NY's Avatar
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    the bike trailer has a wider profile. even long-tail bikes do have a bit of a wide profile, altho not as wide as a trailer. i would feel comfortable in 20 mph traffic, but 25 mph is when it starts to push the limit for me. 30 mph is not OK. i realize that there are fewer options on roads in the u.s. :/ that is unfortunate.

    i like the signage idea "children on board"

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
    Thinking about it, I've managed to flip my cargo trailer 3 times in the last year or so. Twice empty, and once loaded. Now, I think they have seat belts and a pretty good roll cage, but I could imagine the stories a 3 yr old would tell if flipped.
    My friend flipped his trailer with his two kids in it on a MUP. I can't remember how he flipped it, I assume a curb of some kind. The kids were so secure in their 5 point harnesses that they just hung there upside down, but they weren't happy about it.

    I'll be working at the school my kids go to in the fall and I would love to bike to work with them in the trailer, but my two options are a 45mph speed limit road with a good bike lane or another road that is larger but slower where part of the way the right lane is a shared bike/car lane and the rest it's a bike lane. I suppose the other option is many extra miles out of the way on the MUP and then trying to find some surface streets after the MUP ends. I'm not loving any of my options. I've done the 45mph semi rural route once with the trailer and wasn't that happy about it. Almost everyone gave me extra room, but some didn't.
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