A few months ago I entered the glorious world of motherhood. While the first couple months were a bit of a blur, sleep has finally become more common and there are refreshing moments of rational thought. Some of these thoughts surround the urban environment and what it’s been like navigating the same neighbourhood and city as a parent with baby in tow instead of as an individual.
The stroller has become central to this navigation and days filled with lovely walks. I also use a baby carrier, but it was simply too hot much of the summer to do so and the stroller includes a space for groceries without breaking my fragile back. It is a must for multi-tasking and doing everything by foot. I get some exercise and sanity, my little one gets some fresh air every day, I can walk with other moms and share our experiences, the neighbourhood businesses get frequent patronage, my husband doesn’t have to spend his evenings and weekends doing errands and our car makes many less trips meaning everyone on the road benefits. Generally, the experiences have been fantastic. The majority of small businesses include employees and customers who rush to assist in opening doors and sharing the odd bit of advice about parenting.
However, the other day I overheard a fellow pedestrian comment to her companion, “strollers are so annoying, taking up the entire sidewalk”. I couldn’t help but be offended. A familiar feeling of the need to defend my transportation mode (I cycle most summers to work) surfaced. I’m the first one to move out of the way with a smile for other pedestrians. While I can relate to occasional frustration in sharing the sidewalk space, I think it’s important to consider that we all have our reasons for the way we travel. I’m certain there are inconsiderate stroller users as there are inconsiderate motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. But to generalize that everyone who happens to use a stroller is annoying is well, a bit annoying.
Another stroller experience occurred on public transit with mixed results. I had been reluctant to use the bus with the stroller as I’m well aware how many seats they take up. However one particular day, when starting out for the 50 minute walk to downtown for an appointment with the stroller, the ominous sky begin to darken, I weighed my options and felt it better for my little one to hop on transit instead of being caught in a torrential downpour or lightning storm. I opted for a bus with relatively few passengers aboard, but was greeted with another mom and stroller on one side and a couple teenagers engrossed in their iPods on the other side. I tried in vain to keep my stroller out of the way without making people move to push up the seats. It became an exercise in frustration as the bus driver was yelling to keep the stroller out of the exit area, people were awkwardly walking around it, and I ended up getting off early just to get out of the way. There was several transit users who smiled in an attempt to make me feel less awkward, and a passenger who helped me get the stroller off the bus when I had to exit in the middle area without it being lowered. I only share this to express my apologies to those who were inconvenienced but to assure transit users that it is not the intention of everyone with the stroller to get in your way on purpose.
I’ve always taken the condition and material of sidewalks and pathways for granted. The condition of paved surfaces has become much more apparent to me because of stroller use. Cracks that are too deep or wide or depressions for driveways that are too frequent mean a little one is often disrupted from a fitful sleep or navigation becomes trickier. There have been many occasions where the nice smooth well-maintained road has the obvious advantage and I actually can’t help but prefer areas with no sidewalks because then I’m allowed to walk on the road which is typically better maintained and has an uninterrupted path. The conclusion of the preference of road travel is not obvious – is it better to just do away with sidewalks and have the pedestrians share the road? I’m not sure that’s the case, but certainly the maintenance and materials of pedestrian pathways have taken a back-seat to our roads, even in a neighbourhood with a high volume of pedestrian activity.
Despite the odd obstacle, I have a great appreciation of what the stroller has allowed my family to experience in our urban environment. It allows for social interaction that can’t happen in the car, multi-tasking, fewer vehicle trips, exercise and use of the seemingly unlimited resources for young families within walking distance. I’m well aware of the benefits to my own family, but I think it important to remind readers that we all benefit from increased usage of our urban spaces, amenities and establishments, and need to respect each other no matter whom the user is and how much space they take up on the sidewalk.
photo by WNC Photos