The Southwest Corridor and Boston’s Emerging Family-Friendly Bike Scene

Apologies for the misdirect! Click here if you are intending to read “Casey and a Brief History of highways in Boston.”

By Ian J. Augustine

Image courtesy of the Carfree with Kids blog

For many beginners, the thought of commuting by bicycle to and from work, school or play every day can be a daunting prospect. But for those with young children, the idea of including their child on that ride can often seem scary or even impossible. Enter: The Southwest Corridor. 
Since 1987, the Southwest Corridor has provided conditions with little to no vehicular traffic for cyclists and pedestrians alike. It runs approximately 4.7 miles and connects Jamaica Plain with Roxbury, Back Bay, and the South End. It’s an ideal and relatively safe route for anyone commuting to and from these neighborhoods, and as such, more and more parents have started to consider the Southwest Corridor a viable route for commuting with young ones every year.
“We’re trying something new and it seems to be working out,” said Chris Baard, 37, of Jamaica Plain, who has begun to experiment with commuting with his four year old daughter to school each day. The encouragement that Baard needed to commute with his daughter came from the parents of his daughter’s kindergarten classmates. “I was apprehensive at first, but to be honest, the Southwest Corridor really is a great place to commute with your kids. Doesn’t get much safer.”
Baard rides a Bianchi Brava road bike that he’s had for about five years, and his daughter rides in a rear-mounted CoPilot bike seat that he bought on for only about $100.

They spend about 10 minutes of their commute riding on regular busy streets, and another 10 to 15 minutes on the Southwest Corridor each day. 
For parents that might be thinking about riding with little ones, Baard offers the advice:  “Always wear a helmet, and don’t expect that just because you have a child attached to your bike that drivers are always going to treat you with courtesy. Just be safe.”
Liz Roy, 42, of Jamaica Plain had similar words when asked about her daily mother-daughter bike commute. 

“Southwest Corridor really makes the difference. I probably wouldn’t commute with her if it wasn’t here.” Liz’s six-year-old daughter rides behind her mother on the daily commute in a blue bicycle trailer. They say they’ve been commuting by bike since September of 2010.  When they aren’t commuting, her daughter rides her own bicycle. “We use the bike trailer for the commute because it’s faster than a little pink bike with training wheels.”

The palpable bike-friendly attitude in Jamaica Plain certainly attributes to the rise of bike families in the community. This is something that the parents I spoke with all agreed on. The presence of the Southwest Corridor, as well as the cooperative support of local bike shops and non-profits makes biking with your family in Jamaica Plain almost as easy as biking by yourself. Ferris Wheels, a JP bike shop plans community bike rides from time to time as a means of encouraging parents to come out and ride with their kids. They’re also one of the only places in the city that sells Yuba cargo bikes, an extra long bike that can easily carry three. Likewise, a portfolio of bike-shops such as Bikes not Bombs, JP Bikes, and Revolution Bicycle Repair alongside some highly esteemed health and sustainable transportation non-profits help to make JP a bike-family’s sanctuary.

While the Southwest Corridor is somewhat unique, the family-bike scene is popping up all over the city. In Cambridge, the Carfree with Kids blog is a friendly resource to other bike-parents in the city. It illustrates the ways in which its authors, Dorea and Angela Veirling-Claasen have integrated the bicycle into their family’s daily lives as a primary mode of transportation. It also promotes events such as “Kidical Mass,” a police-escorted ride which has gained great support in Cambridge over the last two summers. Jamaica Plain has a similar ride organized by JP Bikes called the “Spring Roll.” Events like this help introduce children and their parents to the infrastructure, safe riding techniques, and other bike riding parents.

I asked Dorea Veirling-Claassen, what kind of gear she, Angela, and their two children use to get around the city.

“What works best varies a lot by kids ages, weather, and exactly what we need to do,” she said.

Most recently, they’ve been transporting their two kids (ages 2 and 5) in a new Workcycles Bakfiets — a Dutch design with a large bucket up from big enough for two. Dorea says that this type of set-up is perfect for children up to ages 7 or 8. For a while, they were using an Xtracycle (similar to a Yuba), but eventually found that it has became more of a hassle as their children grew.

Currently, Dorea and Angela’s preferences for riding with one child is either the bakfiets or a basic front-mounted Bobike bicycle seat, which are ideal for toddlers. With their five-year-old, they prefer a one-wheeled Burley-Piccolo Trailer. Dorea says that “basically, different stuff works at different ages,” and that readjustments and new set-ups are required every few years. Each family is different, and each child is different. Many families begin with a basic rear-mounted bike seat for their children, and for advice on that, Dorea and her wife have a great blog post.

Family-Friendly Infrastructure

In terms of encouraging more families to bike, it’s clear that bike paths like the SW Corridor in Jamaica Plain, the Minuteman Path in Arlington, or the Somerville Commuting Path play a strong role. But according to Dorea Veirling-Claassen one of the biggest problems is that bike paths often connect through unsafe intersections, such as Jackson Square, Davis Square or Arlington Center. Furthermore, year round maintenance and snow plowing is required for year round family commuters, though it isn’t always prioritized by the state. Luckily, there are a few new bike paths on the horizon.

“I deeply hope the proposed path into Downtown [Boston] from Somerville comes through. It would make a huge difference to families in our neck of the woods, likely helping us in a way similar to the [Southwest] Corridor down south.”

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