O’CONNELL: Sidewalk Menace, or One Less Car?

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

9 comments

  1. Strollers are wonderful, and get better the more kids you have! We’re expecting our 3rd in Dec, and our “dual stroller” will see plenty of action in the coming months. In Calgary we’ve not come across much issue with using the stroller, except when you roll the family into an elevator… 

    What I’d like to know is, what’s the deal with all the constantly changing and more restrictive rules surrounding car seats, and is it just me, or do they seem to keep getting bigger?

  2. I agree with Jacob. Strollers gave us so much freedom. We had three kids in less than three years. With our doctor downtown, we took our crew on the bus many times in both single and double strollers (never both together). With the stroller, we too were able to get out and explore the world. That complainer is likely part of the 1%, the type that complains about the singing bus driver. We too are tax payers (why does it always come back to money?) and pay for our kids to use services. Enjoy what you have and get ready for winter. You’d be amazed how much little ones enjoy spinning out and sliding in strollers!

  3. Count me in the 1% I guess. The problem isn’t the concept of having a stroller… it’s that strollers themselves are becoming larger and larger, almost like SUVs for babies. Society’s ability to accommodate something that is 20x the size of the actual person inside it is limited… what happens when strollers get so big that they are impossible to fit in the aisle of the bus? Or what happens when so many supersized strollers force other passengers to not be able to board the bus… or compel OC Transpo to put more buses on the route (at the cost of cutting buses from some other route)? Strollers aren’t the problem… but parents who know that they will be using their stroller in environments with limited space should buy smaller strollers, out of respect for the other taxpayers who want to use the infrastructure too.

  4. Hey Dave, I don’t disagree with you that strollers are getting larger, and definitely not great on transit. But wanted to point out that the large stroller itself literally translates in our family to not needing a second car (because it can accommodate so many needs, can fit a diaper bag, snacks, groceries, etc), and thereby reducing the impact on road infrastructure. The transit question is a tricky one, definitely easier to have a smaller stroller there. But at the end of the day it really comes down to how the person pushing the stroller reacts to transit users as well, and whether everyone can just be as respectful as possible to others without generalizing that the stroller is a nuisance. Again, reminds me of how cyclists are generalized as a nuisance by motorists sometimes, without realizing that they usually mean one less car on the road making travel easier for the very motorists who are annoyed.

  5. Our double stroller defintely took the place of a second car. It also doubled as a bike trailer.

    At one point we found ourselves with four strollers: the big double (for grocery shopping and long trips), a regular single stroller (for short trips where the older kid can walk), an unbrella stroller for bus rides, museums etc. where small spaces are expected, and a car stoller that was just a set of wheels and frame for the infant seat to clip into.
    Made us wish we had a garage!

  6. With abundant respect for the difficulties of being new parents, I have a few points to make…
    Any child that can’t be carried easily is usually big enough to walk (when I was 3 or 4 I was walking miles with my mother).
    Parents who use strollers like bulldozers to aggressively plow through a sidewalk crowd should be charged with child endangerment. It’s probably safer to carry the child. Anyway, “to stroll” is to walk in a leisurely way – not to force people out of your way using your child as a weapon.
    Strollers that can’t fold up shouldn’t be allowed on transit. Letting SUV strollers on transit, with their oversized wheels plus shopping bags usually takes up more space than a mountain bike. Anyway, I think buses should be designed for efficiency – it doesn’t make sense that people must negotiate an obstacle course of walkers/wheelchairs/strollers (and bin diver garbage bags now) in order to find a seat (buses should have two or more entrances and fare-takers). As most transit administrators have never ridden a bus, I’m not surprised at the reality.

  7. great points – love to see it from this angle – freedom and street level access. yeah strollers!

  8. Honestly, you walked for miles? In the snow? In -60 degree weather? In reality, it was probably 4 blocks and after that you whined and your mom happily carried you the rest of the way. Any commenters that don’t have kids and are complaining, you’re banned from using a stroller when you do have babies. Is it really an inconvience on buses? They are for babies! They are incredibly cute! I would prefer to see them on the bus than the type of people that would complain about strollers on buses because you’re no fun … you frown too much! Besides it’s priority seating, you shouldn’t be sitting there!

    Ottawa has large sidewalks (compared to say Hong Kong which is horrible for strollers). There’s room for everyone I can’t even think about a street where this would be an issue? (exception: if you use a Chariot on a busy area, you’re probably deserve the complains because you’re using a shopping cart.)

  9. Back in the times, in Toronto, there were big hooks below the streetcars’ windshields. Mothers with strollers would simply fold the stroller, hang it on the hook (they called that “put baby on the hook”) and board the streetcar with the baby in her arms.

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