Mayor of Small Town: Kids Not Allowed to Bike on Streets Here

Readers — I find this story by Colleen Creamer flabbergasting: A grandmother in the tiny town of Charlotte, TN, allowed her four grandkids, ages 7 – 12, to ride up and down her street. For this she found herself in violation of a 2003 city code that declares no one can “ride an all terrain vehicle, skateboard, roller blades and roller skates or conduct similar activities on city streets, in the city park or on the Court Square of Charlotte.”

While that Grinch-y  list doesn’t mention bikes, Mayor Bill Davis told The Tennessean paper that it was “absolutely” true that bikes are forbidden, too. He explained his rationale thusly: “If one of them gets hit, who’s going to be responsible for that kid?”

Oh, maybe the person hitting the biker?

The major went on to complain about younger kids playing and riding their bikes, ignoring the fact that these particular kids were all age 7 and up. According to the paper, the mayor also said he thought that most other towns in the county (Dickson, TN) don’t allow kids to ride their bikes on the street, and that his town gets a lot of complaints about kids playing.

Maybe that should be Charlotte, Tennessee’s motto: “Where people complain when kids play.”

In this case, the grandparents happened to BE outside. But, “You can’t just let kids be out there unsupervised,” said the mayor.

Oh yes you can, Mr. Mayor. As nutty as this country sometimes seems, there really isn’t a law against kids playing.

Maybe your town can be the first! – L.

We love our kids! Just not outside, biking or playing.

We love our kids! (Just not outside, biking or playing.)

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71 Responses to Mayor of Small Town: Kids Not Allowed to Bike on Streets Here

  1. Linda Wightman November 24, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    This is a bigger issue than just a fear of lawsuits, although that is always a problem. I see two sides, both troublesome:

    (1) Due to many factors, but especially I think to the modern tendency to have small families, to delay having children, or to have no children at all, there are a lot of people out there who just haven’t been around children much, and therefore don’t understand them, and frankly don’t like them. They find them inconvenient, unpredictable, and annoying, and would much rather that the young of our species be neither seen nor heard, but stuck on a shelf somewhere so as not to interfere with adult life. Neighborhoods have always had their grumpy old men (and women) whom the kids learned to avoid, but now such people are everywhere, and they are at least as likely to be young as old.

    (2) Due to many factors, including poor discipline and simply not having had enough practice to learn the skill, many children do not know how to play in the street. I grew up playing in the street, as did my kids, and we all knew to watch out for cars and scatter to the edges when they were sighted. We did not keep playing and expect the cars to avoid us. Moreover, we had been taught to be respectful to the adults who were driving, or otherwise using the roadway.

    The law is asinine, and needs to be repealed. But behind stupid laws there’s often a reason, and that must be addressed as well.

  2. Nicole November 24, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    This is just, wow. I mean, really, it takes quite a bit to surprise me. This does. I understand prohibiting young children riding bikes on busy streets, but normal side streets? Crazy.

  3. Donna November 24, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    If the law states what is said in the article, I would certainly argue as a lawyer that she DIDN’T violate the law at all. While riding bikes could possibly fall under “conduct similar activities,” the fact that the lawmakers didn’t specify bikes – which existed in 2003 and are the most common thing to be ridden on streets outside of cars – strongly indicates an intent to exclude them from the law.

  4. lihtox November 24, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    Since the ordinance isn’t limited to kids, there are probably some cyclist advocacy groups that would be *really* interested in this story. Environmental groups too. It’s dangerous to bicycle on the sidewalk if you’re going at any sort of speed: dangerous for pedestrians, dangerous for the cyclists because drivers don’t watch the sidewalks when they pull out of side streets and driveways.

    If Colleen Creamer has a lot of local allies, they might want to set up a campaign of civil disobedience (of sorts), and start bicycling everywhere they can, a lot.

  5. JaneW November 24, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    I liked the fact that every single comment on the original article was outraged. And as some of them pointed out, banning bicycles on public streets may conflict with state laws governing bicycles.

    If they’re concerned about kids biking on the street, the solution is to offer classes for local families about doing so safely.

  6. E. Simms November 24, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    Bicycles in Tennessee, as in most states, are legal vehicles. Riders are subject to the same rights and responsibilities as as car or truck drivers. The Tennessee law specifically says that anyone under 16 must wear a helmet if riding on a highway street or sidewalk. There is no prohibition on children riding in the street.

    This mayor is making up his own on the fly law.

  7. Papilio November 24, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    Aaaargggh!!! >:( (<– if that looks really weird now, it was supposed to be an angry face)

    What are streets for, Mr. Mayor?
    Are they only for adults driving cars? Is their mere purpose to get those drivers at their destination as soon as possible?
    Or could neighborhood streets possibly be for *people*, such as playing children: (photo by David Hembrow)

    @Linda, regarding point 1: I've read similar statements from&about Brits – how they consider children in general to be annoying, entitled brats, even if they've never met the particular children they're talking about. I wondered what was wrong with them: they've been one themselves, children are the future of their country, logically they are and have always been a part of society. That negativity is just… weird.
    Merely less people having less children can't be the cause – that's true here too. But maaaaaybe it is the AmeriBritish tendency to deny children a somewhat independent existence that also makes non-parents percieve the children as a nuisance??

  8. CrazyCatLady November 24, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Do the schools have bicycle racks? If so, everyone, including adults so that there are no “unsupervised” kids, should ride their bikes to school. Are there bike racks in front of city hall? Then everyone should ride their bikes there too, to deliver a letter to protest, or to show up at a town meeting where this can be discussed. (Of course, they should walk the bike on the town hall property.)

  9. Gina November 24, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    Wondering….where SHOULD they ride bikes?

  10. lollipoplover November 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Mayor Bill Davis AKA Burgermeister Meisterburger.

    I am thankful I do not live in a town where people complain about kids playing. Or biking. Or breathing. It makes you wonder if these folks who complain were ever children themselves. Nice places to live have children playing and laughing outside. This is called living in a good neighborhood.
    Calling the police on kids playing means you’re an asshole.

  11. Donna November 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Papillo –

    No, I think the anti-child sentiment is fueled by complete self-absorption – both of people without children and parents – and a total lack of consideration for others.

    Way too many parents have the attitude that their children are cute little imps that we should all find delightful at all times and in all manners of behavior. They insist that they be included in every event and welcome in every location and all with their full childlike exuberance. No matter how accepting we are of kids, a screaming, overtired and bored toddler pretty much ruins the night out for everybody in the restaurant. Previous generations of parents seemed have a better grasp of the idea that certain levels of behavior are required for places and that children did not belong there unless they can maintain those levels of behavior.

    And way too many adults think that ALL places that they go should be child-free with little acceptance that children do exist in the world and are entitled to be places and make reasonable noise.

  12. Papilio November 24, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    @Donna: That reminds me of a similar scene in that movie JFK – Kevin Costner had some important appointment and his wife took their two small children to a restaurant (because they ALWAYS went there on Easter Sunday?). So she spent her time trying to keep the kids in check, who of course were bored and misbehaved. And we were like ‘How stupid of her – for whom is that supposed to be fun???’

    But is there the same negativity toward older children, say, I don’t know, over 10 or so? 12?

  13. Earth Waratah November 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    Best to have a whole generation of kids who are obese, plagued with diseases.

  14. Puzzled November 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    Well, count me in the “children are cute little imps who should be included everywhere” category. If we want children to learn to behave in places, they need to start by being in those places.

  15. SKL November 24, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    That makes no sense. A bicycle is a mode of transportation. Have they ever cited an adult biker riding to work or just passing through?

  16. SKL November 24, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    I’m not a fan of kids “playing” in the street, but riding a bike in the street is a legitimate life skill. In some places it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk (not to mention inconsiderate depending on the circumstances). In other places there are no sidewalks / bike paths.

  17. lollipoplover November 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    @Puzzled- At least they are imps and not snowflakes.
    We also take our kids most places (well, except adult only places like bars)and expect good behavior or else.
    What’s missing in so many of these “no kids allowed” arguments is consequences for wrong behaviors. It’s not like these kids were roving the neighborhood in bike gangs and stealing grandma’s handbag. They were just outside- playing on bikes, like normal kids do. Just being there got them in trouble! And the Mayor thinks this is a good law because people complain about kids all the time. Maybe some folks in this town should start complaining about other things, like busybodies.

  18. Papilio November 24, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Just an observation, but… Funny how some of you call the bike a mode of transportation, and others (here and elsewhere) rather talk about the bike as a toy for children (implicating it’s not normal for adults to use one).
    I remember a – for me – very odd comment on Amsterdam cyclists: ‘They never have to grow up!’

  19. Andy November 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    @Puzzled Count me in too. If you exclude children from places, you should not be surprised when they do not learn how to behave there. Neither should you be surprised if those children will not be welcoming towards non family adults – those have never been friendly with them.

    For that matter, if you exclude parents from places and events (cause they can not bring children with them), you should not complain when parents loose touch too with where exactly the line is in those places.

    Nor should you be surprised if they stop to care about you and your needs, since you never cared about them excluded them first anyway.

  20. anonymous this time November 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm #

    Isn’t there a sort of ideological war going on in the US over biking? It seems I heard something about this, that in the “red” states there is a kind of “cars and only cars” mentality, and a great annoyance about cyclists, while in the “blue” states, there is all this pro-cycling stuff. It seems to break along the party lines.

    My guess is this mayor is a ‘publican?

  21. Donna November 24, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    “But is there the same negativity toward older children, say, I don’t know, over 10 or so? 12?”

    I don’t see as much negativity as a group. Some anti-teen sentiment, but I remember that existing when I was a child. It is certainly not as bad as the anti-young kid movement.

    “Well, count me in the “children are cute little imps who should be included everywhere” category. If we want children to learn to behave in places, they need to start by being in those places.”

    Fine if you only go to places that are behavior-appropriate for your children. Personally, I enjoy more adult-oriented entertainment – ie completely boring to my 8 year old – every once in awhile but to each their own in that respect.

    A young child doesn’t need to know how to act properly in a fancy restaurant. Or the theater. Or the ballet. Or even a regular restaurant at 9:30pm. There is still plenty of time for them to learn how to behave in those places without needing to be there at 2 or 5 or even 8 if not ready.

    Further, kids learn just fine by learning how to behave in more kid-friendly environments first and then moving up to increasingly more adult activities as they develop the skills to act appropriately. Insisting that the rest of society deal with the entire learning process at inappropriate venues is completely inconsiderate.

    I prefer to set my child up for success (and not annoy everyone in my vicinity). For example, she didn’t go to the theater until she had proven that she could act appropriately in kid movies, dance recitals and other child-oriented places. And even now I choose only performances that I think will hold her attention and that I am willing to walk out of if she loses it. Despite the fact that she now goes with me sometimes, I leave her home with a babysitter if I am going to see something that will bore her because the rest of the people in the theater didn’t buy tickets and hire babysitters for their own children to be stuck next to my fidgety, bored, whiny 8 year old.

  22. Donna November 24, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    Andy – Give me a break. It is perfectly acceptable – healthy I think – for adults to have lives outside of their children. That means that they do occasionally want to go places and do things that don’t involve their children. It also means that they do occasionally attend, and even throw, events that don’t involve children. You certainly don’t have to choose to do so, but it is ridiculous to think it is wrong for Susan to have an adults-only Christmas party and that this one yearly event now means that Susan is not friendly toward children.

    Likewise, I fully expect my child to want to socialize without me on occasion. Many occasions as she gets older. Last weekend alone, we socialized with friends together (Saturday night), apart (Friday night) and in the same house but in separate areas (Sunday afternoon).

  23. tdr November 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    “his town gets a lot of complaints about kids playing”

    I admit I laughed out loud at that one. When I get grief about my kids (not often), I like to imagine the grieved person as the patient and my “kid” performing the open-heart surgery that will save his/her life. They will become productive members of society someday if they are allowed to blossom as kids today!

  24. SKL November 24, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    No, I don’t think this is a Republican thing. I know many, many Republicans who think bikes are the bomb. My most bike-crazy relative is Conservative Republican through and through (and also childless). And, this is the first I’ve heard of Republicans being against bikes. I have heard of Libs thinking that bikes are the answer to global warming, though.


  25. Puzzled November 24, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    Donna – I don’t think where I go is relevant, since I don’t have any (real) kids. I take my teenage students to places where teenagers are expected because, well, that’s usually where they want to go.

    However, as a non-kid haver, I have absolutely no complaints when my dinner is interrupted by the kids at the next table. When parents apologize, I tell them that I prefer that my species continue to exist, and that I enjoy hearing from kids, even if what I’m hearing is loud and unusual for the setting.

    I might behave differently if I had kids of my own, but given that I don’t, I always welcome kids in any place I happen to be, and wish more kids showed up in real society.

    I wasn’t being as specific as “all 3 year olds must know how to behave at the 4 Seasons.” Rather, it’s a general statement that kids are part of this world, and this world should welcome them, not relegate them to their own sections.

  26. SKL November 24, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    I take my kids almost everywhere with me. BUT I don’t let them play in the street. For that matter, I don’t play in the street, either.

    I will let them ride their bikes in the street in a safe manner once I feel they are ready for that. I used to take my kid sister out on 10-mile country highway bike rides. on her 16-inch bike named “Speedy.” In a trike helmet. But she knew the rules and followed them. There’s a time and place to “play” on bikes IMO.

  27. JP November 24, 2013 at 9:02 pm #

    Watch ET sometime and wonder at how the story would seem extraterrestrial enough now….kids with all that freedom? Spooky.
    And what about a teenager riding a bike to high school? Same risk? An adult riding for recreational enjoyment and exercise? Same risk? Or just all depends on the age limit….

    I do believe the irritation dwells within the eye of the beholder. Some folks have a lot more patience for kids than others do.
    I suppose though…if I were a determinedly childless adult and pledged to remain so – I just might find the religious ferocity with which kids are now endlessly over-supervised – rather a vexation of the spirit. Sad thing is though…it’s not really the kids’ doing.
    I’m assuming that the kids are actually allowed to *walk* around the community’s public domain? Maybe not though – if this constitutes kids at risk.
    So there it is. Calorie-burning behavior privatized by the state.
    Or just maybe the Autopians resent competition from any other wheels? New definition of a family neighborhood: safety for happy motoring from all kid-activity threats.

  28. SKL November 24, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    Am I the only person who thinks kids playing where cars drive is NOT brilliant? It’s not at all uncommon for kids to be severely hurt or killed that way.

    For me it has nothing to do with annoyance. I don’t think we’re anti-safety here, are we? Riding a bike safely on the road is perfectly fine. But that “anti-kid” ordinance may well have arisen out of a rash of accidents caused by foolish behavior in the streets.

    I can remember doing some really stupid things myself when I was a kid. Like when I decided that the cars would simply *have* to stop if I walked into the street (with no traffic light), because I heard somewhere that “the pedestrian has the right of way.” Thankfully the drivers were alert and I was never hurt in traffic, but lots of kids are.

  29. Donna November 24, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Puzzled –

    I don’t think a general view that people – ALL people because my 8 year old is no more thrilled by obnoxious children in public than I am – should have places that they can enjoy without inappropriately behaving children means a dislike of children or that you believe that the species should end or that we should relegate children to their own areas. It is a realization that there is behavior that is appropriate in certain settings and that ALL people who choose to use those venues should practice it.

    This idea that kids should just be accepted everywhere and be able to behave however they see fit is 100% a this self-absorbed generation thing. My parents and all my friend’s parents went out without kids all the time. I remember them going to dinners, parties and weddings pretty regularly without me. Unless there was going to be other kids there, I never wanted to go anyway and I was more than happy to be excluded.

    If I did go, I sure as hell knew that I better behave properly. Lying on the floor, wandering to other tables, screaming at the top of my lungs, throwing food, running around, knocking things over, throwing temper tantrums, blaring video games/movies, monopolizing everyone’s attention, frequent interrupting of adult conversation – all things I’ve experienced from children out and about in the last month – was 100% unacceptable and would have been dealt with swiftly. I wouldn’t have been allowed to act like that at McDs or Chuck E Cheese, let alone a sit-down restaurant, museum or other more grown-up establishment.

  30. Vanessa November 24, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    @Papilo in a lot of parts of the U.S., bikes are definitely seen as toys for children and something that you outgrow when you’re old enough for a driver’s license. Adults who ride bikes are usually either doing it for fitness/sport (e.g. mountain or trail biking on weekend) or are unable to drive for some reason (suspended license, can’t afford a car).

  31. Sherri November 24, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

    Where I am from riding a bike in the street is not considered playing, it is transportation! The street is the only place bikes are allowed, aside from designated bike paths, and bike riding is encouraged. Children are taught bicycle safety in school starting in grade two.

  32. Donna November 24, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    “Am I the only person who thinks kids playing where cars drive is NOT brilliant?”

    No, I agree. I remember playing in the street as a kid, but I lived on a 3 house street that was used almost exclusively by the residents of those 3 houses as it really didn’t go anywhere else. I don’t let my kid play in the road.

    It is not actually still 1970. The world has changed considerably since then and, as a result, some parts of childhood have to change too even if we don’t like it. One area in which the world has changed is that there are far, far, far, far more cars on the road today and the drivers of those cars have many more distractions available to them.

  33. bmjj2k November 24, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    Thank god for Mayor Davis. Otherwise, Charlotte would be terrorized by tiny tots on bikes, youths playing tag, and heaven forbid, kids tossing a Frisbee in the park. His town is now safe for geriatrics to go to dinner at 3 and retire to bed at 7:30.

    “Complaints about kids playing.” SERIOUSLY?

  34. J.T. Wenting November 25, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    “(1) Due to many factors, but especially I think to the modern tendency to have small families, to delay having children, or to have no children at all, there are a lot of people out there who just haven’t been around children much, and therefore don’t understand them, and frankly don’t like them. They find them inconvenient, unpredictable, and annoying, ”
    “(2) Due to many factors, including poor discipline and simply not having had enough practice to learn the skill, many children do not know how to play in the street. Moreover, we had been taught to be respectful to the adults who were driving, or otherwise using the roadway.”

    Seeing kids here, (2) is the main cause for (1).
    Kids in general (not all, but far too many and far more than in the past) are obnoxious, disrespectful, have no regard for other people or their property, etc. etc. etc.
    They bike 3-4 thick in the middle of the street, refusing to give way to anyone.
    They shout, jeer, scream insults at people.
    They vandalise cars, houses, bus stops, store fronts, anything basically, nobody daring to call them out on it.

    “Well, count me in the “children are cute little imps who should be included everywhere” category. If we want children to learn to behave in places, they need to start by being in those places”
    And then be corrected if they misbehave, which is extremely rare.
    Parents are afraid and too self centered to correct their kids (and yes, that means spanking them if needed, in extreme cases packing up and leaving with the kids to preserve what’s left of the evening for the other guests). Thus the kids never learn that being obnoxious and misbehaving in public is not acceptable.
    In fact all too often parents will reward their kids for it, attempting to bribe them into behaving by giving them stuff (candy, toys, etc.) if they misbehave.

    “I remember a – for me – very odd comment on Amsterdam cyclists: ‘They never have to grow up!’”
    which is all too true, sadly. The laws protecting cyclists in the Netherlands are such that they can do basically whatever they like, be utterly irresponsible, cause accidents, and never be responsible for it.
    OTOH if a cyclist were to crash into a car idling at a traffic light and break an arm, the driver of the car would be held legally and financially responsible for the accident.
    They’ve done something about the excess where when a drunken cyclist driving home from the pub at night without lights who crashed into a legally parked car, the owner of the car was held legally and financially responsible, but there’s a long way to go yet to make our laws sane.

    “No, I don’t think this is a Republican thing. I know many, many Republicans who think bikes are the bomb. My most bike-crazy relative is Conservative Republican through and through (and also childless). And, this is the first I’ve heard of Republicans being against bikes. I have heard of Libs thinking that bikes are the answer to global warming, though.”

    it’s not political, it’s cultural.
    Suburbia, with its long distances and lack of infrastructure for anything that’s not a car tends to be more anti-bicycle.
    Inner cities probably mixed (easy to zip through traffic, but more dangerous too and on the sidewalks highly annoying for pedestrians).
    Small town, village, distances are perfect for bikes, life is slower too.

    As to this case, I can see how the law could be interpreted to include bicycles, and it seems it was done specifically on a case by case basis to give the police an excuse to get kids off the street where they had no other leverage.
    Not a good sign, but a rather brilliant bit of government overreach and a very good example of how vaguely worded laws are dangerous to liberty.

  35. Andy November 25, 2013 at 4:23 am #

    @Donna Then it is cultural. When we have been growing up, there have been no such thing as wedding without children or party where parents can not take their children. Many children on wedding have been considered good thing.

    Wedding are considered family events and excluding children would be considered very inappropriate.

    I do not remember my parents to go on a dinner or party without us. If one of them went, then it was a party where his partner would not go neither (say high school meet up after years or some business party).

    I also think that people remember their own generation to be much better behaved then it really was. They forgotten times when they themselves acted obnoxious. Plus many “good kids” meet only with other “good kids” and have no idea that the sport club in next district was pretty bad place with a lot of troublemakers in.

    Case in point: young violence and criminality are going down. Teenage pregnancies are going down. Kids take drugs less. In what is really important and what you can measure, kids are better behaved. Less violence counts as better behavior imho.

  36. Andy November 25, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    @Donna Adults-only Christmas party? Seriously? Even adult children here are supposed to come visit their parents on Christmas, even if it means going by plane. The only exception is if you can not afford it financially.

    Allowing kids somewhere and making that event into kids centered one are two different things. You do your adult things and the kid is present on the same place. Kids group into packs anyway so you just sort of have an idea where the pack is. All that while discussing with other adults. If necessary, one of parents go to deal with the group.

  37. Bostonian November 25, 2013 at 5:50 am #

    This is kind of crazy, and the mayor is on thin ice legally, claiming the “other activities” includes bicycling when bicycles are treated elsewhere in state law as a vehicle. Unless Boss Hogg appointed the judge himself, he wouldn’t win this case if it were taken to trial.

    There is no other place the kids could ride those bikes in such a tiny town. There are no sidewalks, all the streets are one-lane, most with no shoulders.

  38. Dave November 25, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    The fact that you can’t play in the park is really disturbing. Complaining about issues of safety on the street might be arguable but playing in the park. The next election should leave this mayor looking for a new job.

  39. Papilio November 25, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    “Am I the only person who thinks kids playing where cars drive is NOT brilliant?”

    Actually, I think cars driving where kids play is not brilliant. Not to say that every street should be totally car-free, but the situation Donna describes – pretty much the only cars belong to residents of that street – is a much better situation.
    Plus, (in addition to parents telling their kids never to step into the street and never chase that ball et cetera) drivers should know that kids play and keep that in mind when driving through places/streets where there are or could be kids at play:

    And imagine being responsible for this:

    @JT Wenting: Your ability to always look at the bright side is really without precedent. (You do realise spanking kids is illegal?)

  40. EricS November 25, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    Davis must be bff’s with Rob Ford. Cuz you have to be on crack cocaine in a drunken stupor to make comments like that. Let alone make some dumb ass stupid city code (not law). Talk about a totalitarian regime at work. Next thing you know, there is a curfew, people have to all dress the same, you can only eat what your told to, read what your told to, watch what your told to. And at the end of the day, everyone has to hop into their incubators under lock down. Let’s face it, the last bit is as ridiculous as the city code. Why do people insist on making themselves more and more stupid? Is it because the internet made them do it?

  41. SKL November 25, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    Spanking kids is illegal? Where?

    Streets are built to accommodate transportation, which is mainly cars where I live. Bikes have every right to be on the streets, but where I live, they are required to follow the same rules as cars. And even if you teach your kids to be careful, and even if the drivers all intend to be careful, kids still manage to find themselves mangled by cars all too often.

    As far as Donna’s childhood street, it certainly sounds idyllic, but it is ridiculous to suggest all streets should be like that. Even living at the end of a cul-de-sac, we get a lot more traffic than just the cars that live here. The regular side street I lived on as a kid had plenty of thru traffic every day. Over 40 years ago, kids in my neighborhood were all taught NOT to play in the street (or run across it etc.). We had yards and sidewalks/driveways (our own) and playgrounds to play on. Do today’s kids not have yards and driveways?

  42. EricS November 25, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    @Papillo: “Spanking kids is illegal”? Since when? Now I don’t believe in indiscriminately disciplining kids, I believe in talking first, teaching by explanation. But there is a difference between discipline and abuse. Are you sure your not mixing the two up? And if you don’t know the difference, then I guess that’s where the problem is in this world. No one uses their head anymore to assess situations. Too many holier than thou attitudes. I can bet 95% of us here have been spanked as children to discipline us (NOT abuse), because we were being completely out of line and unruly. And we turned out just fine. Smarter and more respectful even. Why do you think most kids these days are the way they are. Because they lack discipline. Grandmama would have never stand for that kind of behavior.

  43. Beth November 25, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    “Actually, I think cars driving where kids play is not brilliant.”

    Seriously? So when kids are playing on the street I need to drive down to access my driveway, garage, and ultimately my residence, *I* am the not brilliant one?

    I guess to me, free range or not, streets are intended for wheeled transportation to drive upon, in an effort to go from point A to point B. I have a hard time buying into the argument that streets are for playing and vehicle drivers can just go pound sand.

  44. Jen (P.) November 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    @anonymous this time

    I live in a fairly red state in a large city with a republican mayor and it’s becoming more bike friendly all the time. There is a major rails to trails development that is close to 20 miles long with additional trails through downtown and bike lanes on some major roads. My suburban town is heavily republican and, again, efforts are being made to make the place more bike and pedestrian friendly. It seems to be a (welcome, IMO) trend in urban and suburban development, although this ridiculous Tennessee mayor evidently hasn’t gotten on board. That’s just crazy.

  45. Khal Spencer November 25, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    That stuff like this can happen simply boggles the mind. There seems to be more and more of a disconnect between common sense and government operation.

  46. Khal Spencer November 25, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    Just a quick response to Beth, two comments above my last one. First, bicycles are “wheeled” and are vehicles according to state law in TN. The city’s assertions run counter to law. Secondly, I see no reason why having children ride their bikes in the street should interrupt your ability to drive your car. We have kids riding their bikes in the street all the time where I live, and all of us manage to to and from our destinations without incident. We even have a paperboy who delivers via his bicycle. If that ain’t “transportation” than nothing is. Perhaps you overstate your case?

    One easy solution for this, if its not being done already, is for Charlotte to offer bike ed classes for its children so they are reasonably competent to ride their bikes in traffic. Its not that hard.

    When I was a kid, we rode our bikes all the time on the road and there was not a single incident I can think of proving that was unsafe or unwise. Back then, adults respected their children’s presence and the children in turn acted responsibly. What went wrong in Charlotte?

  47. Beth November 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    I’m not talking about bicycling in the street. I’m talking about kids PLAYING in the street, which many here seem to promote, and I was referencing the specific quote ““Actually, I think cars driving where kids play is not brilliant.”

  48. Papilio November 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Haha, okay, some clarifications then.

    Re spanking: JT Wenting brought that up, but under Dutch law it is illegal, so it was relevant to him.

    As for cars driving where kids play. I was talking about neighborhood streets, and I didn’t say that car traffic should be completely banned from those. However, I do believe neighborhood streets should be designed for *people*, moreover the residents of those streets, and not for motorized through traffic (that should be kept on through roads, designed to deal with it).
    Of course residents (and visitors) need to be able to reach their house by car, but there is nothing wrong with filtered permeability (let the cars go around the houses and give pedestrians and cyclists more, and more direct, routes) and keeping the volume of car traffic in such streets as low as possible, so kids could play there if they want (or feel safe enough to cycle 4 abreast, going somewhere without a parent). Because they are *people* too.

  49. Khal Spencer November 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    Riding our bicycles was play behavior when I was a kid. Having said that, we realized we were sharing the roads with cars, so we did not do too many dumb things. Of course, we didn’t play checkers in the middle of the street. I think the story is about kids riding bikes in Charlotte, not about them setting up doll houses.

  50. John November 25, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    @Donna….when I was a youngster growing up in the 1960s, my parents ALWAYS took me out to eat with them no matter how fancy the restaurant. It was a neat and educational experience for me fraternizing with the adults. Those are moments with my parents I’ll cherish forever!

  51. John November 25, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    Quote: “Oh yes you can, Mr. Mayor. As nutty as this country sometimes seems, there really isn’t a law against kids playing”.

    Lenore, you had better not say that too loud because some stupid American Senator or Congressman somewhere might hear you and then see a need to draw up a law forbidding kids under 16 from playing outside WITHOUT adult supervision. Because after all Lenore, we’ve got to protect the kids!!! (rolleyes)

  52. SKL November 25, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    Well, Papilio, I don’t know how it is where you live, but where I live, many residences are along plain old roads. The same roads upon which schools, stores, and other businesses are found. There are exceptions – like the cul-de-sac upon which I live – but that is actually a bigger problem. In the process of making it less amenable to thru motor traffic, such design makes it too far for my kids to walk almost anywhere they might want to go. Meaning they have to be driven around instead of walking or riding their bikes. Meaning more cars on the road. Planning fail!

  53. Papilio November 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    @SKL: I pretty much described how it is where I live.
    Walking and cycling are (being) made as attractive as possible – for short distances even at the cost of driving. You don’t want happy cars, you want happy people – and they don’t all drive.
    There are some streets that remind me of the cul-de-sac scenario, but they’re connected by a cycle path (and sidewalk if I’m correct) that provides a direct route between the city center and the retail area in that neighborhood.

  54. SKL November 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    Papilio, does it get below freezing frequently throughout fall, winter, and spring in your town? Do workforces typically live 10+ miles away from their workplaces, and 1-2 miles away from the nearest bus stop? What do people do when it rains for most of the month?

    I really don’t think it works to transplant what works in one city to every other city on earth.

    I also don’t understand what is so awful about asking kids to ride responsibly in the street and play elsewhere. Generally in the US, locations with high car ownership are also locations with plenty of off-road space for playing.

  55. lollipoplover November 25, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    @Papilio- Our suburban neighborhood has “share the road” signs everywhere, bike trails and wide sidewalks, and kids can access playgrounds, swim club, tennis, and schools by bike. We taught them proper bike etiquette from early ages. We also instill a healthy fear of cars and encourage them to stay up on the trails as much as possible (no playing in traffic here). My kids have best friends within biking distance and go back and forth to play without even asking for a ride or playdate.

    Right now our biggest biking issue is low temperatures in the morning (and ice) and parents calling me “worried” that my kids look cold and wanting to know if they can drive them. I give my kids a choice daily if they need a ride but they are happy to commute with their friends independently and use their cold weather gear.

  56. Papilio November 25, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

    “does it get below freezing frequently throughout fall, winter, and spring in your town?”

    Not so much in fall and spring, for the winter the frequence depends on the part of the country.

    “Do workforces typically live 10+ miles away from their workplaces,”

    I don’t know the median commute distance in my country (it’s not just my city, it’s the entire country). Some people commute 25+ miles, some live and work in the same town. However, commutes are typically the longest distances people (almost) daily travel, wouldn’t you agree?, so not very relevant when talking about neighborhood streets; those are only the very begin/end of a long distance trip.
    Or is your entire 10+ mile commute on neighborhood streets? I mean, in that case it would indeed be awful to drive down 18mph streets all the time, trying to overtake cyclists in a safe manner.

    “and 1-2 miles away from the nearest bus stop?”

    No, IN the towns there are more. On the countryside OTOH they’re typically further away than 2 miles.

    “What do people do when it rains for most of the month?”

    They get out their umbrellas and raingear, duh! :)

    I’m talking about how neighborhood streets should ‘belong’ to the people who live there and not to cars racing through, and I’ve described how that is achieved where I live. What are you objecting to? (You sure sound like you’re protesting against something…)

  57. No Quarter November 25, 2013 at 8:43 pm #

    More and more I find myself reminded of a quote by H.L. Mencken: “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

    You know, a law like this had to have been passed behind closed doors by a bunch of petty elected bureaucrats, who think of everything in terms of liability. How many similar laws exist other places. The free range kids movement is valuable, but it’s not just how do we as parents act with our own kids. It needs to be a political movement in which we try to toss the bureaucrats who come up with these laws out of town on their ears (and maybe off a cliff at the same time).

  58. SKL November 26, 2013 at 12:07 am #


    I’m not protesting, I’m trying to explain to you that it makes sense here for kids to NOT treat streets like playgrounds.

    Most urban US children live on or near a busy road. (And roads are not just busy at two specific times per day; we have staggered work hours, part time, flexible hours, work vehicles, etc. so there is no “safe” time to play on the road.) This is why we have things called sidewalks, yards, playgrounds, parks, and rec centers.

    The wording of the ordinance at issue suggests that kids were using the streets in ways that were inconsiderate, dangerous, and unnecessary. I assume it dates back to the time period when it was popular among youths to make nuisances of themselves using skateboards in places designed for other purposes. Like it or not, there are times when youths choose to be obnoxious. The words “you’re ruining it for everyone” are often spoken by well-meaning youths about their inconsiderate counterparts (often to no avail).

  59. John November 26, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    “Entire Town Tells Kids To Get Off Their Lawn”

    Sounds like an article out of The Onion. Or Tennessee.

  60. Papilio November 26, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    @SKL: And I’m trying to explain what has been done here and could be done there to make most streets less busy and less dangerous, to change the situation you’re describing. It has been designed in; it could be designed out.

  61. SKL November 26, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    I don’t think it’s going to be designed out when you’re talking about a long-established city with millions of residents, most owning older houses. The sidewalks, yards, and parks were the solution back when the older cities were planned, and they are still good solutions.

    As for the more recent developments such as the one I live in, I don’t know. Still can’t get past the fact that everyone needs to drive to work, and the only time kids are outside playing is when workers are out driving. And it’s not like they are going to rip out the roads or tear down the houses or re-build the schools to fix their planning goof. Where’s the money for that going to come from? Nor would the landowners want community bike paths to cut through their backyards.

    Hopefully future developments will reflect lessons learned.

    You still haven’t explained to me WHY it’s such a burden to ask kids to NOT play in the street, when they have so many other options?

  62. Papilio November 26, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    My main point was and is that through traffic shouldn’t go through neighborhood streets. It affects the liveability. Children are like the pit-canaries in such streets, so if they can’t be out there anymore due to dangerous traffic, something is wrong.
    Something related to that is that I think it’s important to encourage people out of their cars, for everyone’s sake.

    Retro-fitting existing streets is perfectly possible, regardless of the age of the city, with all kinds of strategies, some cheap, some more expensive but also safer and/or more convenient.
    Yes, that costs money – all investments do. But I think the ‘active’ costs of such an investment are smaller than the ‘passive’ costs of doing nothing – much like the active safety measures to keep kids from getting abducted don’t outweigh the passive costs of their lack of freedom.

    Re backyard cutting bike paths: do you mean cycle paths to connect cul-de-sacs? That could indeed be difficult.

    “Hopefully future developments will reflect lessons learned”

    That’s the only way forward…
    And now I’m off to bed, it’s laaaaate!

  63. SKL November 26, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

    Maybe we have different ideas of what “playing in the street” means, Papilio. The cities I’m talking about (the older parts, not the cul-de-sacs) have kids playing and riding their bikes and walking to school all the time. They just do it along the sidewalks or on the lawns or their personal driveways. They are all taught not to wander into the street, from the time they are babies in diapers. When I say “into the street,” I mean into the lanes of car traffic.

    Not sure what it’s like where you live, but here, most urban houses are set back from where the cars drive by. Between the house door / porch and the street, there is usually a lawn (grass) to play on, then a sidewalk (footpath, which young kids also use as a bike path), then a treelawn (grass), then a curb separating the treelawn from the road. Each house usually has a driveway leading from the road to the garage / carport. Most urban houses also have a back yard (grass lawn). There is lots of space for kids to play near their homes, plus neighborhood parks / playgrounds usually within walking distance. The cars generally have to go at a slow-ish speed on these roads, to reduce the risk of accidents. Personally I think this is a pretty good design. Accidents can still happen, but they are reasonably preventable without stopping kids from congregating and playing outside. The problem with the newer developments is that they don’t have as many connections to other roads, so the path to get somewhere is unnecessarily round-about. If it’s gonna take an hour to walk to the park, kids aren’t going to walk there. But if the area was a grid like the older neighborhoods, maybe they would.

  64. Emily November 27, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    @SKL–I might agree with you about the “no playing in the street” rule being reasonable, IF the children weren’t also banned from riding their bicycles in the park, AND if the city ordinance had been clearly written so as to exclude bicycles from the street, before the city enforced that rule, out of the blue, just because said bicycles were ridden by children. I’m not even a lawyer like Donna, and I could see holes in the city’s case the first time I read this article. “No bicycles on the street” would be impossible to enforce without major push-back from adult cyclists; “No cyclists under X age” would also ruffle feathers, and “No bicycles in the park” is just plain unreasonable. Around here, we don’t ban bikes, Rollerblades, or skateboards from the parks; we have a bike path and a skate park, and people are also allowed to ride bicycles for transportation, provided they follow the same rules of the road as motorists do.

  65. SKL November 27, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Emily, I agree that there should not be a law against kids riding their bikes in the street (responsibly), nor in the park, nor anywhere. And that communities need spaces where kids can do all sorts of things that are healthy and age-appropriate. Even skateboarding. 😉

  66. Papilio November 27, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    @SKL: The kids I see rollerskate or play soccer in my neighborhood are actually on the street itself, and every now and then they have to make room to let a car or bike pass. That isn’t too often because that’s almost only destination traffic.
    You do describe more room – here the typical street would be door, little frontyard that’s often an actual garden or (partially) paved (for the bigger backyard it’s pretty much the same – no big lawns in this densely populated country where people don’t like flats but do like to have a countryside), sidewalk, then a lane of car parking and trees, then the actual street that has curves and bends in it. You just can’t speed there, and it’s absolutely no alternative to the main road. I guess that explains why kids like the street enough to play there instead of going to a park or playground, even though those are closeby as well…

    “The problem with the newer developments is that they don’t have as many connections to other roads, so the path to get somewhere is unnecessarily round-about. If it’s gonna take an hour to walk to the park, kids aren’t going to walk there. But if the area was a grid like the older neighborhoods, maybe they would.”

    I can’t blame you, but: you’re thinking in car-routes. Either cul-de-sacs, where walking is too far, or a grid, where driving is the most convenient. What about a cul-de-sac-ish scenario for cars, combined with a grid-like scenario for pedestrians and cyclists?
    No pedestrian or cyclist needs to go round-about here (what a funny expression – I only knew that word for the circular intersection-replacement on through roads to keep traffic flowing in a safe manner).

    (Another novel – sorry if I’m boring you with all this infrastructure talk! I’m afraid I’ve been reading too much about it lately… :) )

  67. SKL November 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    Yeah, we also use round-about to describe the kind of discussion that takes half an hour to make a simple point. 😉

    Some areas do have separate walking/bike paths that are not parallel with the roads we drive on. They are not common, though. I wonder if that is partly because they want to make sure cops have easy access to every public area. Or just because they are not popular enough in the places where they do exist. Driving here is easy and much cheaper than in other countries, and we always seem to be in a rush.

  68. Papilio November 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    @SKL: Just to think that roundabouts are implemented here to get rid of light-controlled intersections and the stop-and-go-and-stop pattern that goes with it.

    I don’t why there are so few examples where non-motorists have more routes than motorists. I did read about research showing that a grid was best overall for traffic flow etc, what New Urbanism seems to preach as well, but the major flaw was that the combination of limited car routes and unlimited ped/cyclist routes was not included, because that didn’t exist in the USA.
    So it could be lack of experience I guess.
    And I know it doesn’t sound too good to say this, but I think people don’t always know what they actually want…

    “we always seem to be in a rush.”

    To get out the car again? :)

  69. NicoleK November 28, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Honestly, I don’t think cars and bikes mix well. Bikes travel at a much lower speed than cars do. Passing them is a nightmare, you basically have to slow down to almost a stop if you get caught behind one and there’s oncoming traffic.

    I think that major streets should have a separate path, like a sidewalk (NOT a bike lane, they just paint them on existing streets making the resulting car lane too narrow). Something completely separate.

    Side streets are less of an issue, cars are going slowly there anyhow.

  70. Papilio November 29, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    “Honestly, I don’t think cars and bikes mix well.”

    Congratulations, you are smarter than John Forester.
    I feel it’s okay in 18mph streets where there are many bikes and few cars, but on roads with more car traffic and a higher speed limit it must be very unpleasant to have to mix with cars (from a cyclist’s perspective).

    “I think that major streets should have a separate path, like a sidewalk.”

    I agree, but would like to add that path should be separate but of equal quality – you really need to provide people with a GOOD alternative.

    “Side streets are less of an issue, cars are going slowly there anyhow.”

    That depends on the radius of that corner. Smartest is to let the cycle path swerve about a car lenghth further into the side road, so there is room for a car to turn into the side road (and thus isn’t blocking the lane) and then deal with the cycle path at a 90 degree angle. All this in a situation where the cycle path, just like the road it is parallel to, has priority over the side streets.

  71. Michelle Balfe December 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm #

    This truly breaks my heart. Children are losing so many rights and for a community not to see that is sad.