My older daughter’s two best friends live next door to one another about a mile away from us. When they hang out it usually involves me picking them up or dropping them off; so, I find myself driving on their street a lot. The street is off of the main road that feeds into these little mini-neighborhoods in the cluster of homes that make up the development. That main road is off a major parkway. The speed limit on that main road is 35mph, but the speed limit in the neighborhoods themselves is 25mph, so when I’m turning left into my daughter’s friends’ neighborhood, I’m slowing down from 35 to 25. It takes some normal speed adjustment to complete the turn and enter the neighborhood at a safe speed. Their houses are the 2nd and 3rd on the right side, so they come up quickly upon turning.
So what? you ask. I thought this was a blog about parenting, not traffic control?
What if I told you that there is a family (or group of families) in the neighborhood that have decided their little darlings deserve to use that neighborhood road as their own personal bike path/racetrack? And every neighbor’s driveway as a bike ramp? What if I told you that as I turn on the street, more often than not, the first thing I see RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD is an orange cone? And then another one roughly 5′ away from the first, and another one, and so on.
And then there’s the turtle. Have you seen the turtle? With the flag? It’s a S-L-O-W down sign, alerting drivers that kids are ‘at play’. Get it? Turtle = Slow. That’s out there too – RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. Cute.
And the kids are everywhere – all over the street dashing around haphazardly on their bikes…I mean, they are riding right up to the T-intersection of the neighborhood road and the main street. Yikes.
So, the first time I saw this I took it all in. On the surface maybe this is not such a bad idea. I mean, the kids I saw riding were pretty young – maybe 7 or 8 years old – and looked like aggressive little bike riders, pumping those legs and getting up some good speed, then careening down the driveways with their little legs all askew, smiles on their faces from the adrenaline. Cute, right? Uh, no.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a road as:
- A wide way leading from one place to another, esp. one that vehicles can use.
- The part of such a way intended for vehicles, esp. in contrast to a shoulder or sidewalk.
I like the part that reads ‘in contrast to a shoulder or sidewalk‘. See, I drive a vehicle. The road was put in that neighborhood to accommodate vehicles. There are parks, bike paths and – gasp – sidewalks for pedestrians, scooters and bikes all over the place in that neighborhood. That’s what they were put there for…to keep pedestrians, scooters and bikes off the road and give them a safe place to traverse the neighborhood. I think the neighbors are still paying extra property taxes for all that infrastructure because the neighborhood is relatively new. But I guess this family or small group of families – can we call them Coneheads or no? – didn’t get the memo, because they have elected to turn the road into a playground for their kids. So, road-to-playground families, ahem, Coneheads, I have a couple of questions for you:
1. What happens if your kids go and play in another neighborhood and those families choose not to cone off the entire perimeter of their neighborhood? Are your kids not allowed to play in any other neighborhoods? Do you instruct their friends’ parents to cone off their neighborhoods? Do you lend them your cones? Do you supervise?
2. By employing this strategy, don’t the odds of them getting hit by a car actually go up? Aren’t you teaching them that they should not worry too much about cars/roads/drivers by creating an illusion that all vehicles will yield to them if they want to go ahead and ride their bikes in the middle of the road?
2. How or when will your children learn that roads are not safe places for playing? Or maybe your goal is to teach them that the rest of the world should accommodate their needs, regardless of the inconvenience to everyone else.
3. Why do you feel entitled to inconvenience EVERYONE in the neighborhood (and all of us that have to drive on the road) by taking over a public road and using it for your own children?
4. How do you justify making drivers of vehicles adjust their driving such that they are navigating an obstacle course of orange cones and reckless children on a PUBLIC road? Your are increasing our risk by attempting to decrease theirs.
5. Did you ever consider that the cones / turtle are still no guarantee? What if tragedy occurs in the form of some drunk driver, reckless driver, driver whose brakes just went out, who turns on the road and your kid is riding right there, behind the cone and not really paying any attention because of the security of the cone? Will the cone save him? No it will not. The cone is not a guarantee. He needs common sense and a more effective store of risk assessment tools to draw from. He can only get these from you, not a cone.
When-I-Was-A-Kid-Flashback-Story-Alert: When I was a kid, I lived on a busy street. Cars whipped by our yard at 50mph. We had no fence, my single parent mom was too busy figuring out how to feed us and keep the car running to sit and marvel at our bike riding and play dating, so most of the time we were on our own. Oh and get this – I didn’t even own a helmet!! No, no helmet. In fact, had I worn a helmet, the percentage improvement of safety from accidents would have been canceled out by the increased risk associated with the a*s-kicking I would have gotten from the neighborhood kids for wearing a helmet. I also had a bike once with no working brakes. Startlingly, no one ever got hit by a car. Not one of us. We all figured out that the road was for cars and the sidewalks were for us. In fact, anytime we threw caution to the wind and darted out on the street in our bikes, the drivers would slam on their brakes, roll down their windows and yell at US. Not the other way around. My mother would be mortified that we had inconvenienced a driver by behaving like such idiots. Can you imagine? The world did not revolve around our fun. Further, if we ever presumed to cone off our street for our own personal use, I can promise you either the cops, neighbors or a random passer by would stop that nonsense immediately and yell at us for being disrespectful.
I’m just saying…
Needless to say, this has caused no shortage of ranting in my house. My kids are horrified every time I pull in that neighborhood because they never know when I’m finally going to roll down my window and confront those parents with my questions (because yes, they are always standing outside watching every move their little speed racers make, giving all of us drivers the hairy eyeball just for having the nerve to drive a vehicle on their sacred ground). Instead, I choose to observe, marinate in the ridiculousness of it all and vent right here. Conheads, you know who you are. The cones are a metaphor for how you are choosing to raise your children. Take a close look – you’re removing all the risk. Is that good?
Look, I don’t want your kids to get hurt. Risk exists always and I can’t imagine a bigger tragedy than one of our kids getting injured. It scares me too – so much that sometimes I just want to wrap them in bubble wrap before they leave the house every morning. This world is so scary. I know your heart is in the right place, I do…but I’m begging you, consider the long-term ramifications. I mean, what is your plan? You can’t follow your kid everywhere in a 5-star crash-test rated minivan full of orange cones with a triangle sign on the back that reads “Baby on Board”. They need to figure it out at some point. They need to understand risk and adjust their behavior/choices to accommodate the potential for [insert bad outcome here]. Moms and dads – we can’t protect them from everything. Ugh – I said it out loud. It’s true, though. So hard to accept, but true. They need us to let go a little so they can dip their little toes in the water and decide for themselves if it’s too cold, too hot, too full of sharks, whatever.
Start small. Take the cones off the road. Keep the turtle. Talk to them about safely riding their bikes. Too big a step? Put the bikes in the car and drive 1/4 mile to the park at the bottom of the street. There’s a bike path there – no vehicles allowed.