This was originally published to Raising Wilshire in April 2018 and updated in July 2018.

Wilshire at the Virginia Avenue Park playground on a Saturday morning. Photo by author.

The kids and I really should have walked. Or biked. But we (the moms) didn’t think we could get to our destinations safely – and we were trip-chaining under time constraints. Transportation scholars would tell you our line of decisions are common among moms everywhere.

Wilshire had a busy Saturday morning. He had a playdate with his neighborfriend at Virginia Avenue Park, where they also host a weekly farmers’ market, and then to the pool for his first swim lesson of the year. All of this was made convenient because my car seat (a Chicco NextFit) is easy to install–so we only had to take one car–and because there was free parking at our two destinations (the park and the pool).

My travel diary from this day

We really should have walked. Or biked. Virginia Avenue Park may have free parking for cars, but they’ll valet your bike!  I was with a friend who is very comfortable riding a bike; she is the yin to my yang. The park was about a mile away. The pool was six blocks east of the park.

The bus was off the table because the two routes that go between my house, the park, and the pool don’t operate on weekends.

I’ve walked to this park before. It necessitates walking along Cloverfield Boulevard, a fast-moving north/south street between my house and the park without any meaningful street calming elements (I’ll even take street parking as a tactic here), and crossing the on- and off-ramps for the I-10 freeway. I worry about not being seen by motorists entering and exiting the freeway. It’s not an irrational concern. Last year in Santa Monica (2017), 8 pedestrians died last year – and this doesn’t even reflect the close calls I experience, and they are numerous because I still walk with my son every day.

This is what I have to navigate when I ride my bicycle to Virginia Avenue Park. I do it only when alone. Click to make bigger.
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I cannot even begin to fathom riding my bicycle on Cloverfield Boulevard with my child. Not yet. Not right now. Not until that street design changes. And I am hopeful that it will change, but I can’t tell you when.

As I was looking through photos from our playdate, I remembered an essay written by my friend Katie Matchett, a fellow transportation planner and mother of two kids now living in San Diego, about how poor street design forces most women to default to getting in a car. Here’s an excerpt from the essay posted to her blog, Where the Sidewalk Starts:

My choice, like so many of women’s travel choices, was based primarily on safety. I was confident the kids could walk that far, and I knew it would be the healthier and more interesting choice for all of us–but without good walkability, I wasn’t sure that I could keep them all safe.

All across the country women, in particular mothers, make similar choices every day. Poor street design, disparate land use, time constraints, lack of personal safety—all of these conspire to force women off their feet and into cars. We have built a transportation system that discounts women’s travel needs, and women—and our communities—are suffering for it.

As always, more to come.

Until next time,