Who’s driving who anyway?

When contemplating a career in transport these days (or just contemplating transport), it seems important to have your head around autonomous vehicles, electric and shared vehicles, and to have some opinion on them. Meanwhile it feels like people in the field of autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles or any technological development in transport don’t have to have their head around public transport, active transport or urban planning, but that’s another matter (or maybe it isn’t).  I have been trying to work out what I think about autonomous vehicles, shared vehicles, electric vehicles and what they might mean to a transport planner, a parent and a car-free person.

Ten years ago I organised a debate ‘Sustainable transport means seriously fewer cars’ and the idea was to get those that saw our urban transport woes being solved purely by technological changes with continued car ownership vs those that saw the need (and possibility) to change the way we do things and own things. I couldn’t find enough people for the negative team so the debate turned into a forum of the good things about shifting away from car ownership and use. So I was still left pondering where the world sat with this question – what was the potential for a mass shift away from privately owned cars?

Since then, the next generation of electric cars with the help of lithium batteries has rapidly developed, along with autonomous vehicles and then there are the shared vehicle and ride services. In someways each of these developments has kind of excited me and freaked me out at the same time. I love the idea of sharing a car or a ride. When I need a car, I borrow one, knowing it would just be sitting there otherwise.  And I was a big believer in hitchhiking – when dropping someone at the airport, I had once collected the three people waiting at the bus stop and dropped them off at various places on my way home. My passengers were surprised but I can’t stand the inefficiency and lack of community that our individualised untrusting world creates (which is epitomised by private car ownership and use). About thirteen years ago, I had learnt about some smart features of cars related to pedestrian safety, including detection, autonomous braking and airbags on the bonnet, and I was excited about this but not so much about completely autonomous vehicles which my professor at the time was predicting well ahead of the pack.  So I see some advantages to some of these technologies if used well, but I fear that the monetising and marketing of these technologies isn’t inline with what the world needs.

Do we need or want vehicle’s picking us up and dropping us where we need to go from door to door? I believe it obliterates some fundamentally important aspects of sustainable transport systems. These include exercise, efficiency of movement and interaction.

Firstly, there is a good chance that such a model of transport will obliterate our own movement, with people not walking or cycling to public transport stops or from door to door, or not even having to walk from a carpark to the door, autonomous shared vehicles could make incidental exercise non-existent. While people can exercise at other times of the day, having it structured into your life and moving at some stage of your movement through your city just makes a lot of sense. There is the possibility that having autonomous vehicles as a service might encourage occasional use, but I imagine it will be a subscription type model separate from public transport so it will have minimal marginal costs, in a similar way to current car use.

Secondly, while autonomous shared vehicles overcome some issues with car use, such as, how much material and space idle vehicles take up, it doesn’t deal with the fundamental inefficiencies of the movement of cars as a way to carry people from one place to another which I see most clearly when describing our transport system with an entropic-type variable.  Just picture relatively big, heavy, fast vehicles moving in all sorts of direction and compare it to other modes of transport which either go along set routes or tracks and carry many people (in the case of buses and trains) or are lighter and slower (in the case of bike and pedestrians) and you see the main basis of my argument.  There would still be a gluttonous need for infrastructure, space and management tools to satisfy all these autonomous vehicles fulfilling the whims of their passengers.  There is potential for induced demand as we take away some of the costs associated with car use, which could add another spanner in the works.

Thirdly, cities are a place of exchange, and incidental social interactions are an important element of a vibrant functioning city with caring citizens. Already, people driving cars have much less contact with others than those using other modes of transport. My fear is that autonomous vehicles will reduce our exchanges, because there will be no need for drivers to make eye contact with pedestrians and cyclists and exchange informal signals. This might seem trivial, but needing to watch out for your fellow human beings could be more important than we realise. Perhaps, autonomous vehicles users will spend more time looking out at the street but I feel like the technophilic world that thrives on attention and advertising, won’t be interested in creating outward looking citizens.

I understand that there can be benefits from these technologies, but I would just love a more systematic approach by the people pushing technologies and a critical examination of the social issues around them. I’m sure there are people working in this space, but we need to be careful with what we wish for at this time where we should be using our resources and research effort wisely. I’d love to hear your perspectives on these technologies and services.

 

 

 

The life (we need) is like riding a bike

We are reaching a moment where our political, environmental and social systems all seem on the verge of collapse. There are desperate cries and a call for action – a need to shift our lives and the structures that support it. At the same time I am trying to encourage people to ride bicycles whenever I get time and space to do it. Without understanding exactly how we need to change our lives, I can’t help but feel that Einstein was onto something when he said life is like riding a bike …. but I think he didn’t go far enough because it’s more than about keeping moving to stay balanced.  I think thats a good start but it goes far beyond that, from the way we play, think, struggle, co-operate and act with courage:

Play

A friend of mine says we need to play more with our ideas, our lives and our understandings to move towards a more desirable future. She says that maybe it’s because she comes from an arts background, but I suspect it might also be because she rides a bicycle. A bicycle naturally allows you to play as you move through the streets, testing the way you balance, swerve, spin the pedals and bounce around. You can see the lighter side of life on your bicycle. I suspect that if we incorporate this play into the way we work, do chores, be with our friends, bring up our children and advocate for a better world, we would be more creative, flexible and lighthearted in how we tackle life.

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Think

Along with my ability to think more clearly on my bicycle, I also have to strategise my path and realise my own agency to navigate my way somewhere between shared paths and busy roads. I need to understand the lay of the land better than the people in the cars and use my intuitions to keep me moving and safe. All these ways of thinking should be crucial as we navigate a world where complacency with the situation of the world and lack of self-direction has put more power in the hands of large corporations and self-interested governments.

Struggle

Convenience has become the key factor in choices of how we travel, eat, work, play and socialise. However, one has to wonder if we are just aiming for a convenient death of the human spirit (and potentially humanity) with all this convenience. When you get on a bike, you know you may have to take some deep breaths, force your muscles to move when they are resisting and perhaps even sweat a little. This struggle (especially when you live on a hill and have two children), is something we get through and we get some post-struggle satisfaction from. Life is not meant to all be easy, we are meant to have some tough times and perhaps find ways to feel some positives through them, or at least learn from them. I cannot help but feel as a society we need to be prepared to embrace a bit more of a struggle.

Co-operate

On a bicycle, as Einstein noted, you have to keep moving to stay balanced. In Vietnam this movement is continued by a mass-scale co-operative act of look out for each other while continuing to move enough to stay upright, swerving around others where necessary. This act of casually looking out for each other is crucial in moving towards a better future. Caring for those around us without even knowing who they are, is vital to wanting a better community and not entering neo-liberal, individually owned, convenient parcelled, pieces of paradises.

Act with courage

Some people think you are crazy for riding a bicycle, but I think I’m brave. I know that cars are much bigger and they have all sorts of safety devices for their occupants. I know they are driving too fast for the needs of the passengers (and the city) when they are in the centre of cities, where life is concentrated and speed hinders interaction. However, I know that riding my bicycle makes sense and that I am brave enough to get out there and keep riding, improving my skills and powers of negotiation with the rest of the traffic and those that plan our transport systems. Now is a time for us to be brave in our lives. To take risks in the careers we take, in the people we employ, in how we choose to live our lives and who we vote to govern us. We need to back ourselves and trust that it’s for the greater good, if we are going to get the cultural changes we need in our lives, our industries and our governments.

I write this after being rejected from a job and trying to find the courage to get back on my bike and keep pedalling (as I had to also do after my film was rejected from many film festivals). It can be a challenge to live like your riding a bicycle and it can sometimes seem easier to just go with the flow, obeying the advertisements, the norms and the road rules. However, this is when we need to show the most courage and keep riding. Sometimes I feel like I am riding with no destination but at least I keep riding and I like who I am when I’m riding and I like the feeling of riding. So who’s ready to get off the treadmill and on to their bikes?

A small message from me and my baby-to-be

I found this amongst my draft posts….from 4 years ago a better description of cycling while pregnant 🙂

My transport experiences lately haven’t taken me to distant lands but they have taken me to slightly foreign territory.  In January this year I found out I was pregnant.  Along with all the thoughts, feelings and panic attacks, I thought about how this would affect my transport through my city – from the immediate impact of being pregnant to the long term  impact of have this growing child to occupy, nurture and hope they become a decent human being in a humane world.

First I’ll talk about pregnancy.  I’m still only 7.5 months pregnant so I can’t speak for what it’s going to be like from now until the birth but so far riding my bicycle as my main mode of transport has been great, not perfect, but great.  At the start I did internet searches to try and work out what made sense, but the myriad of different opinions and different experiences led me to realise that it was, as it should be, a personal choice.  All along I have said that if my body decides it can’t do it anymore I will stop, but I still haven’t had to face that possibility.

In my first trimester I was tired, really tired – it’s how I worked out that I was either pregnant or some other parasite was taking all my energy.  I kept riding though – in some ways riding does take some energy but in other ways it gives you it back, especially on beautiful days.  There were times when I did feel a little light headed and if my commute was much longer (it’s roughly 9 km) I might have had to stop and walk a bit.  I never got really nauseas and I actually think the daily exercise and the movement on the bike helped.  I was trying to be careful with the potholes and cracks but occasionally when I did hit a bump, I felt my belly asking questions of the city’s road maintenance program.  But after 13 weeks, my scans were showing a healthy baby with no signs of being in a washing machine type arrangement.

The second semester started great – with new energy and from what I had read – less risk of miscarriage or less discomfort from cycling (not that there is any real known risk of miscarriage associated with cycling in the first trimester). So I was enjoying my new found life of not being tired until at about week 17 or so I started to get back pain.  My instant thought was that this is somehow going to be related to my riding and I’m going to be told by my doctor to give it up.  But as it turns out it wasn’t – just ligaments stretching (which many massages from my lovely husband helped with) which stopped after a few weeks and no one was telling me to stop riding.  It was quite the opposite as people were happy for me to be still active and strong.    One comforting thing about the ride was that my baby always seemed to calm down when I was on my bicycle – I thought this might mean he will like riding in the future – we’ll see. He gave the thumbs up in the ultrasound after I road up the hill to the John Hunter Hospital.

I continued to ride through my second trimester with the only other major hiccup involving waking up in the middle of the night not being able to straighten my knee or put weight on it.  I had torn my meniscus (in my knee) during my sleep!  It turns out that riding my bicycle was part of the physiotherapy to get it back on track, so as slack as I’ve been with my other exercises it has been getting better (fingers crossed!).  So after a couple of days off the bicycle (contemplating whether I should get surgery) I was back on it with a purpose.  As I approached my third trimester I noticed it was taking me an extra ten minutes to get to work and by the end I was breathing like I was trying to suck up all the air within a metre of me with each breath.

And now I’m in my third trimester.  Things have become very obvious with no hiding the bump behind loose fitting clothes. On buses and trains people no longer have to contemplate whether I just have a large belly or there is an alien like creature in there – they can practically see it moving my belly around.  Note: this doesn’t always mean they give up their seat but usually they do.  So on my bicycle it’s a similar story, other people on the road can see that I’m pregnant.  Most pedestrians and people at bus stops give me lovely welcoming smiles.  Some people give me little words of praise for staying so fit, and I don’t know what most people in cars think (you can’t really see them).  However, I still get cars doing stupid things on the road and, with the crazy cocktail of hormones that possess me, I often find myself crying for humanity in such situations.

So, cycling while pregnant might not be for everyone but it seems to have worked for me.  As much as anything else, it helps me cope psychologically and emotionally with what is happening to me and to the world.  It gives me some rhythm both as my feet rotate the pedals and as I get to see the sun (or clouds) everyday and get to move through the streets.  I also forget that I’m pregnant when I’m riding (except on the uphills and after long distances).  I still find myself riding in a similar position and the extra weight doesn’t bother me as much as when I’m walking, sitting or even lying.

This brings me to my next issue – of raising a child within the urban transport world we face everyday.  But perhaps I will leave that for another day … the sun is shining and I should be outside :).

Can you fit a trailer on the train?

As a single carefree bike riding bandit, I would sometimes use the train network in combination with my bike to extend my range. I could easily find a way to put my bike on the train, whether it was hanging it from a hook or just hanging on to it near the entrance of the newer trains. These days, with two children in a trailer behind my bike, I have struggled with how to make the formidable train-bike combination work for me until….

Last week I visited a friend who had recently had a baby. It was in the suburbs and getting there would involve either two buses, a long bike ride with some sketchy roads, or a train and a 5 km ride along the bike path. I went for the last option, completely unsure whether I could pull it off – asking myself how we would fit the bike and the trailer on the train, and then there were the issues around getting it on and off the train to the platform, and from the platform to the bike path.

I nervously arrived at the station and was sort of regretting not bringing a friend when I realised the image of the ramp up from the platform at Booragul Station was completely in my head.  Negotiating stairs with a bike isn’t fun at the best of times but when you attach a trailer with two children in it, the whole thing becomes too complicated to contemplate on an empty stomach.  I then had the realisation that Cockle Creek had one platform (the right one for my outbound trip) and was grateful for the the relatively new bike path from Cockle Creek station to the lake.

At the train station I asked about previous experiences with putting trailers on trains and they said they had never seen anyone put a trailer on the train. I couldn’t work out whether it was due to their lack of experience working at train stations or whether it was something that just wasn’t done. After all, if the train was an old one, there was no way I could fit the trailer in. I asked about how to know whether it would be a new or an old train. Apparently if it says “Oscar” on the trip planner app you will have a new train. Also, non-express trains and trains on the weekend tend to be new trains. And yes you can fit a trailer on the new trains!

Trailer in train 2019

I pulled my bike up into the carriage and did a fifty point turn to get it facing the direction of the door so we wouldn’t have to reverse out. On the way home I worked out that by entering in the next carriage and walking it through the wide automatic doors between carriages you avoid this manoeuvre. The kid jumped out of the trailer for the train trip but I started preparing early to make a smooth exit. While we were in the train my son pointed out that it looked like it was going to rain so my smooth exit turned into a mad panic of a wet cat trying to keep her kittens dry.

After securing the rain cover for the trailer and resigning myself to embracing the adventurous feel of rain hitting my clothes and skin, we were on our way. The ride along the lake was quite easy and reminded me of the days when riding in the rain was normal – you got wet while you rode and dried off at your destination and life went on. The small stretches of road with traffic really made me see the importance of a good network of quiet streets and bike paths. Even though there was a bike lane, the trailer stuck out and I was constantly negotiating with cars to make sure they gave us a wide berth.

On the way home, the rain had eased but my brain was pondering the possibility of getting the bike and trailer down the stairs at Booragul because all stations within cycling range had stairs to the platform I needed. I went with Booragul because there is a school nearby and I figured some students might help me and they did … plus every person on the platform.  I detached the trailer from the bike and four boys carried my sleeping children in their chariot without waking them, while I carried my bike and then reattached the trailer before the train came. I had people offering me help getting the trailer on and off the train, and the experience made me feel good about humans, particularly one’s that catch trains.

 

Getting to the urban audiovisual festival in Lisbon

Over the last three weeks, I have used more transport than I like to think about. But it was for a good cause and it wasn’t taken lightly. I am still not sure it was worth it and maybe you have your own opinions, but I am currently on the other side of the world to my home and I need to make the most of it. We came all this way to show a film, see the potential for collaboration with other filmmakers and academics and to visit family.

Three years ago we came back from spending four months in Spain, prepared to avoid too much plane travel in the future. Since then, we had one more child, I finished my film and I’ve been struggling to work out what to do next with my film and my career. My film was unsuccessfully entered in more than twenty film festivals and sent to dozens of transport academics and practitioners, before finally being accepted at the urban audiovisual festival in Lisbon, Portugal. I was suddenly faced with the opportunity to finally present my film at a festival, discuss the film with an informed audience and potentially find people to work on future projects with. I was also faced with a flight to the other side to the world.

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After unsuccessfully trying to persuade my husband to take three months of unpaid leave so that we could make the most of the flight and potentially test out some of Europe’s finest cycling tracks, I struggled with the idea of a short trip to Europe. I felt quite sick at the idea, but I also saw the opportunity to not only show my film but also to introduce my children to the Spanish side of our family and potential to get us speaking a bit more Spanish. The relatively short distance between Madrid and Lisbon pushed me towards ‘sky scanner’ and I suddenly found myself hunting reasonably priced plane tickets.

With a click of a button you find yourself about to be involved in a massively polluting activity. I had decided to book my tickets to stay for one month and then let my husband work out if and when he would come. This meant a long long haul flight with a 1 year old and a 3 year old by myself. Remembering the trauma of two parents taking our 1 year old on a similar flight three years earlier, this seemed quite insane. I am not sure if I was searching for some kind of nemesis for thinking my film was worthy of flying.

So I survived the flight, thanks to some magnetic blocks, a toy dump truck, countless walks around the plane, a couple of siestas and my breasts.  I still am not sure if I had jetlag because I was so caught up in the jetlag of the children and so tired from the trip, sleep could come any time that I could find the time. After a week of touring the playgrounds of Madrid, we were travelling again. This time I chose not to use the plane…

To get to Lisbon, we would visit the beautiful cities of Caceres and Merida, travelling overland in between. Now the train line in this part of Spain, is known to be unreliable, and we still don’t know what kind of animal we hit, but our trip to Caceres was an hour late. I was travelling with my mother-in-law who used up all her phone data on the train showing Dante Peppa Pig. The next day we had a quick walk around the walled city (which was stunning), before the objectives of the day turned towards croissants and playgrounds (which we struggled to find). Tourism with children makes you see the stunning streetscapes and architecture through your peripheral vision, with more pressing concerns being food and play.

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We caught the train to Merida, and enjoyed the arid landscape with scattered trees and rocky hills. There was also amazing amounts of produce being grown, with cherries and olives and all sorts of orchards. The temperature in Spain was finally reaching the ridiculous heights of summer where shade is a survival tool. This meant hibernating until around 7pm and even then we felt the Sahara was close by. We found a playground and some food before heading back to the apartment for dinner and bed.

The next day we woke up early enough to visit an aqueduct and Roman amphitheatre before the heat became too much and we sought shelter in the bus station. The kids played and we tried to find a balance between giving them the opportunity to let out their energy and the general peace of this place of waiting. After a couple of last minute toilet emergencies, we got on the bus to Lisbon. The children were exhausted and quickly found ways to fall asleep almost all the way to the bus station of Lisbon. We had made it!

The next problem was trying to work out what transport to use and how to get tickets. We ended up paying for each transport individually but I would recommend people buy a transport card as soon as they arrive. I won’t go into the details of our accommodation issues but we moved to another place the next day after walking through the enchanting streets of Alfama and yes, searching for a playground. We had a couple of days of site seeing and working out how compatible different modes of transport were with a pram. Indeed walking the narrow steep footpaths proved a challenge at times.

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The day before my screening, I dashed off to the festival to see “All else being equal” https://vimeo.com/309867679. After a last minute feed and a sprint to the metro I just missed the route planned by google. Instead I decided to get off at a metro stop a couple of kilometres away and walk. The place I found myself after coming out of the metro was nothing like anything else I had seen in Lisbon. There were wide long roads, surrounded my fields of no mans land, beyond which were basic tall apartment. While I had a memory from the map to help me guide my way, I had no idea where I really was and I started to question whether I was safe or whether I needed local know-how to go through this neighbourhood. I walked and then I talked … in Spanish to an old couple at the bus stop. I followed their Portuguese instructions and found myself at Marvila Library. I felt like I had conquered something – whether is was fear, confusion or just a slight transition in my relationship with the streets, it was a good feeling.

The film showed transport from the perspective of woman, with a focus on the issues that tend to be more prevalent for women – from the fear of sexual harassment to the challenging transition between getting children ready and out the door to transporting them through the city. It was well shot and I could see some similarities to my film with a focus on the human lives in transport. I retraced my steps (with a different stride to my lost little lady moment earlier) to get back to my wild children, who were half asleep.

The next day was my film. We arrived super-early and let the children go a little wild in the library. There were only about 25 people who came to watch my film and I felt quite disheartened at that moment. If one person had turned up for every hour of travel I had made with two children to get there, there would be more people in the room. However, I just sat back and watched my film and listened for the reactions in the audience. I felt relieved when I heard the first laughs, because I had feared this audience might be a bit serious.

After the film, there were questions and comments. The first question was about the women who weren’t in the film, those that struggle with transport. While there are a few mentions of small struggles, my film had a focus on the positive experiences of our time on transport – it’s not a complete picture, but it’s a bit of a celebration, just like cars tend to be celebrate in the media. There was a lot of praise and discussion of liminality and non-spaces. There was even the mention that the film should be mandatory viewing for all geography and architecture students. It was interesting to hear discussion about my film that went slightly over my head. There were also questions about how I chose the chapters and what was my aim in making the film. I enjoyed the discussion and I have to keep remembering that when I question why I came so far.

That evening we were waiting in the chilly Lisbon air on the platform for the ‘hotel train’ to take us back to Madrid. We had a cabin to ourselves in Coche 3. Asking around for where might Coche 3 line up, I met a man who hadn’t slept for 36 hours and was waiting for a train back to Porto with a story that was too long to tell me there and then. But when the train arrived we had a pram, suitcase, backpack about 50 metres between us and Coche 3. We arrived to the door and started trying to get everything inside with haste. However, the pram was too wide and we created a bottleneck of baggage. It was all a bit hectic, and if you are ever taking a sleeper train, I recommend keeping everything narrow for entry.

When we were finally on board and moving, the children got quite excited by the cabin, the little cup holder next to the bed and the bed light. I managed to squeeze Tasio’s port-a-cot between the bunk beds while Dante was taking sips of water and turning on and off the light. Eventually they settled down to sleep while I found myself quite unable to. Perhaps it was the rattling shaking train or the glimpses of different lights through the window, or perhaps it was the feeling of not being sure where I am. As the train went through places I have never visited, I wondered where  I was and where to next for my film and for me.

 

 

Parenthood, what you learn beyond the colour of poo

This is not my typical post because it has very little to do with transport. However, I am going to be self-indulgent and tell you what’s on my mind…

I’m the mother of two adorable boys, the youngest is 15 months and I’m currently looking for a job. So when I get a chance (when a miracle happens and they are both asleep at the same time), I go online and see where and how I can twist my resume and skills to fit a job description. Having spent too long at university without putting my heart and soul into specialising in anything, it’s not always easy.

However, while I’m contemplating the selection criteria, I can’t help but being drawn to the experiences I have had and the skills I have learnt during my time as a parent. I have had to deal with competing tasks (dirty nappies, burning dinner and a toddler who has latched onto your leg with the grip of a leech), negotiate with difficult stakeholders (a three year old with a death wish at a busy intersection), researched (everything from rashes to how to stop your child becoming a tyrant), worked well in a diverse team (my hubby and I), developed innovative solution (fitting bikes, balls, scooters, snacks and shopping in a pram and the list goes on with project management and communication skills that will knock your socks off. Then I wonder what the recruiters would think and I go back to writing my boring experiences in the workplace knowing these don’t really reflect the potential worker I’ve become since being a Mum.

But perhaps I shouldn’t and the talents gained while taking on a caring role should be smiled upon in searching for an appropriate person for the job. My ‘gap’ in my resume should be seen as a time of upskilling, becoming the ultimate generalist with the patience and motivation to move mountains. I have also come to learn the perspective of the parent and being interested in transport planning (among other things), this has been invaluable in giving me a greater appreciation of accessibility issues. Spending much of my time with one child who is constantly coming out with crazy connections, and another who will make me laugh without saying anything, it frees your mind to actually be creative and exciting in ways that a normal workplace can’t facilitate. My poor husband has to listen to my next crazy theory or initiative after arriving home exhausted from work. And while most of my ideas are in a development phase with no deadlines, occasionally I manage to do something that I hope gives value to the world without having to be in the working world.

So, with Mother’s day around the corner I wanted to write this down for all the parents out there (mums and dads) who have taken time off work, I just wanted to tell you that while you are appreciated (mostly) by the small people you care for, and perhaps you grapple with your status (am I on parental leave, unemployed, a stay-at-home parent?), you are becoming more employable in my books. I actually don’t like to judge people by how much that can contribute to the formal economy and perhaps my books are not the reality, but if recruiters could see past the work history and examine life experiences I think they would be knocking on the doors of every playgroup.

So I’m not encouraging you all to have children. In fact, for most of my life I was dead set on not producing progeny. However, for those of us that do, particularly for the men who often miss the opportunity, I recommend taking some time off if you can afford it. When you consider that we don’t understand how life began and the human species often forgets how crazy its very existence is, a child will teach you so much and make you want to be more curious and grateful.  And even if these things can’t get to a job (because perhaps our idea of work is all wrong), they will certainly help you complete the selection criteria for being a good person.  (Sorry for the cheesy ending, you can blame the hormones).

 

Baby on board – balancing babies and bikes

If you can even look at a bicycle seat in the weeks following childbirth, well done to you and your miraculous perineum. For a couple of months I just pretended that I had never ridden a bicycle and it made me feel all the more comfortable with my fragile bundle of joy and my even more fragile bottom. But this feeling doesn’t last and after a few months I went for a couple of solo rides for some fresh air and all the other good things that go along with being on a bicycle. Then I started contemplating how I was going to bring my baby along for the ride.

My researched started by just observing the brave men and women who had a small child somehow attached to their bicycle. I became fixated on the idea of having my baby in front of me. With him between my arms it somehow seemed like it would be the safest and cosiest way to go. I figured I’d still be able to put panniers on my back rack and this would allow me to even do the shopping by bicycle. I started to admire the people with such a set up and planned my comeback. I excitedly walked my bicycle to the local bikeshop (because I didn’t want to ride with Dante in the carrier) and asked for them to fit my bike with an attachment for a yepp mini. They looked at my touring bike and told me it might be tricky but said they would give it a go. To cut a long story short, after about five visits to the bike shop, I finally brought home the seat and put it on my bike. I soon realised I couldn’t straddle the bike because the distance between my seat and the baby seat was too small. I would either be having to dismount my bike every time we stopped or put my seat down so low I could straddle my bike while seated. Or I just wouldn’t use that bike seat and it would sit in our garage for three years gathering dust. I went for this option because I didn’t like the idea of compromising my stability and confidence in my ability to ride safely while I had a baby on board. I’m sure that other bikes and bike riders can make this configuration work but I couldn’t.

Meanwhile, I started carrying my baby on my bike on my back in the carrier (mainly because I got sick of walking my bike to the bike shop). He really liked it and I would try and I really liked that because he was attached to me, I didn’t have to worry about him falling when we were stationary. It was also great for him to sleep and give me cuddles. Hills were alright because he was still quite light and in general I felt quite confident. It isn’t legal in Australia to do this though and I did worry a bit about how safe he would be in a crash, but no more than some of the other ways of attaching a baby to a bike. I did come across a carrier with a shell type structure that might help get around my safety concerns.

IGI Baby Protector While Cycling by Constanze Hosp

I remember at university a friend of mine asking me if I would ever put a baby in a bike seat on the back of my bicycle.  At the time I said no because I couldn’t actually ride a bicycle myself. I claimed it was because it was too unsafe, but I was just saying whatever I could so I wouldn’t have to admit that I couldn’t ride a bicycle to a guy I liked. Fifteen years later, I was working out the safest bike seat to prove my younger, less informed self wrong. I opted for the Hamax caress because it looked solid, had suspension to stop my baby getting shaken, and you could even tilt it back for when my baby started to doze off. I also met a couple with one and they seemed to be cool and well-informed. I bought it online to avoid the dreaded trips to the bike shop and assembled it quite easily. The only problem was the distance between my saddle and the baby seat was almost non-existent so the ability to tilt it backwards became a non-feature for me.

I had every intention to try first with a sack of potatoes to avoid my first wobbly revolutions involving a baby’s life.  However, I didn’t have any potatoes the day the bike seat came but I did have a baby. He survived as I slowly adjusted to his weight load sitting up high on the bike. With momentum on the flats I barely noticed and my previous experiences dinking probably helped. However, going up hills or coming up onto the pedals (off the seat) for any reason were a bit of a shock. It also shocked my baby and he had a good grumble everytime the bike rocked with my swaying effort. I resigned to stay seated on the uphills and just let my gears and my solid grip keep me balanced and get me up the hills. Stopping and starting were also a trick, working out how I could lean it against a wall or how I could somehow balance it on me. I had a kickstand but I couldn’t trust it completely once the weight of my son was on the bike.  I’m not sure what the best tricks are, but I just found a way to make sure the bike would be leaning on me and I would be able to stop any potential fall. Sleeping was an issue though as the initial gleeful giggles turned into sleepy grumbles, he would startle himself awake as he couldn’t lean back properly. If the reclining function had worked it may have been a different story but I ended up more than once putting him into the carrier towards the end of the ride.

Then there was the problem of panniers. Ever since I discovered panniers, I was emphatic in my dedication to these spacious bags you could clip onto your bike. I had shopped, toured and even moved house with the help of these wonderous sachels. But now, there was no space on my rack for my beloved panniers. Initially I resorted to clipping a small bag onto the back of the bike seat in a very unconventional manner. It sometimes worked but it was very clumsy and limited. Eventually I bought a front rack and some smaller bright yellow panniers to go with it. It worked well and I could pretend to be touring if I didn’t look behind and notice a small person there. I kept riding with this set up (including riding up our hill) until a few days before my second baby was born. By the end, even with a big belly, I was feeling stronger and longing to keep this configuration. I could carry my toddler wherever we needed to go, and even put the bike on the train to go further. Alas, I went into labour early and my days of riding with one attachment were virtually gone.

I spent many hours staring at online bicycle catalogues, between trailers, cargo bikes and everything in between. Should it fold up, convert into a pram, have three wheels, or two, handle well, be able to fit onto a train, be heavy or light, carry lots or just enough, be good for the rain, the wind, hills, siestas? I probably over thought the prospects of how I would carry two kids on a bicycle. In the end I went with a Thule chariot and while I searched for a secondhand one I ended up buying it new. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have once extra bike trailer in the world. So far, I have enjoyed pulling my two children. Momentum is amazing – when you first start off you feel like there are a couple of logs dragging behind you, but then you forget there is anything at all and sometimes it even gives you a kick along when you go slightly down hill. While we are moving swiftly the kids tend to be happy, but they hate stopping and starting and the problem with two kids together in a confined space is they have to cope with each other. Well, sometimes they entertain each other which is fun to hear. Uphills is a slog but the stability of the extra wheels on the trailer mean I’m not trying to pedal and virtually trackstand at the same time. By the time I’m home they are usually both asleep and I can’t believe how angelic they look. I can get out of my seat and I can use the panniers which is great (I prefer to keep the trailer for the kids and light things and use the panniers for anything heavier). Getting in and out is not as easy as I first thought with my bike falling over as a jiggle the kids into the trailer. I have learnt to lean it agains a wall or something solid. As for converting it into a pram, it’s possible but sometimes I’m flighting with the bits to make it work. I’m sure there are more pros and cons to this and all the other bike configurations I’ve tried. I’m keen to hear about yours so please comment (I am trying to put together a more general list of configurations for bikes with babies and may put together a survey but in the meantime check out https://thismombikes.net).

Taking baby steps to getting back on your feet after having a baby

I wasn’t good at pronunciation when I was a child. So I get told the story of how I was insisting on going in the troller while my Aunt kept trying to tell me it was a stroller. I ended up frustratingly saying, ‘OK I want to go in the fram‘. Prams, strollers, carriers, backpacs, arms, shoulders and the shopping trolley, call them however you like, but they have all come in handy for my expeditions on two feet with my little ones.

I was so excited to be able to walk again (and see my toes), that I went for a walk to the beach the day after I got home from the hospital. This was probably not a good idea  because you need time to relax and heal after giving birth. But I did love getting back on my feet and finding a bit of rhythm and fresh air to make me feel alive. So, when you feel the time is right, get walking with your baby, but take it easy and enjoy the places closest to your house to start with.

What to carry the baby in?

We had a bassinet pram for our first baby and it was great for the first few of months. It doubled as his bed at night and we could go out walking, have some dinner, come home and put him next to our bed without him waking up. The bassinet is also good for them to be able to have some time to stretch and play on their backs which I regretted not having with my second baby. Instead by second baby has become all too familiar with what I’m wearing, as he is often snuggled against my shirts in a carrier.

At some point we realised that we wouldn’t be able to keep our first born in this convenient multi-tasking bassinet for the rest of his life and we found ourselves with a pram he could sit in, slouch in, put his feet up on the handle bar and finally become a little houdini and slip out of the seat belt and climb out of while it was moving! I am no pram expert, and everyone will want something different from them (facing you, facing the world, lightweight, lots of space, storage space, easily stored, trendy, can leave it anywhere and no one will steal it.. and the list goes on if you drink coffee) so I’m not going to review different prams etc. We live on a hill so I was just excited to see that prams have leashes to stop you having to chase runaway prams down steep streets. Our street is so steep I actually had to make sure blood didn’t rush to his head when we climbed up.

I was also excited by the built-in storage capacity. I have carried almost all my groceries in prams since I became a mum and learnt how to play 3D tetris to fit a weeks worth of shopping in the bottom of the pram (sometimes I kick the toddler out and it turns in to one mighty shopping cart). I have occasionally had library books and pasta fall out onto the road while I’m trying to mount the kerb, but in general the pram has held together through all the abuse I have thrown at it. I have even used it to move furniture! I almost feel like I wish I’d had a pram without having a baby, they are very handy and make car drivers more careful around you.

If you go down the baby carrier path, when you have it on, it’s this amazing feeling of constant snuggles and adoring looks beaming up at you (it can feel a bit too cozy in summer though). You will also start to put a bit more bounce in your step, realising you have become a walking talking bouncer with a heart beat. You will also have to work out how to put it on. Depending on which one you go for, you will be testing your material management skills or whether prenatal yoga has paid off and you can actually tighten the straps, that are at the point on your back that is the most difficult to reach. Several times I asked people to help and they loved the chance to have a small interaction with a baby and to feel helpful in a world we often feel unhelpful to the strangers around us.  Just a word of warning, unless you are happy to go to the toilet while wearing a baby (which I soon discovered that I was), go before you put them on – that extra pressure on my bladder would often hit the spot that made me need to rush for the closest public toilet, or any establishment that would let me use their facilities with a baby strapped to me.

One day this back clipping business was just not working for me at all – my fingers were feeling numb from the effort. So in an effort to fight of a baby blue moment, I looked up videos of how to put the baby on your back (that way I figured the clip would be on the front and all would be good). So kneeling on the bed surrounded by cushions, I twisted and contorted until I managed to shuffle the baby and the front of my shirt onto my back. I raced off to the shops hoping there would be no reason to get my baby off my back because I had no way of getting him back on. And then I had this amazing feeling of being a teenager wearing a backpack in love with a band called gerling. I felt slightly free for the first time since I had become a mum and it felt slightly wrong that it was because I was equating my baby with with vegemite sandwiches, disorganised folders and all the other inhabitants of my school backpack.

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Then you have the option of wearing them in front of you, which is a favourite amongst the dads. It’s less snuggly but a whole lot more playful as you can pretend that you are a robot being controlled by a smaller, more human version of yourself, neon genesis style. Or you can just enjoy moving their arms and letting them shudder with the excitement of seeing the world hovering a metre above the ground with their legs dangling in space.

Whatever way you end up carrying your baby be aware of your back and try and make sure things are adjusted to be as comfortable for you as possible. Afterall, hopefully you are going to be walking everyday so it’s worth getting it right

No gym membership required

Since having my second baby I have done almost no other exercise other than walk. And while I don’t have a perfect figure or fitness, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. I love that my exercise starts the minute I leave my house and it varies with the terrain and the kids (sometimes it’s more of an exercise in patience when my toddler starts stopping to examine every pipe he sees). And while the hill to our place is a killer, it gives me time to work on my strength and will (especially when I’ve bought over 20 kg of groceries) and tell myself that this is all good training for climbing in Tasmania or the Pyrenees. And while I don’t have a gym instructor barking at me to keep going, I get lots of encouragement along the way. It gives me a confidence and makes me believe I deserve all the chocolate I bought down the street.

Getting familiar with your neighbourhood

I thought as a cyclist I knew the streets around me quite well. But as a lady from Berlin pointed out in my film, it’s not until you start walking that you really notice the little things – the details that make you really feel part of your neighbourhood. Firstly, you will want to become a close penpal of the council as you see all the missing footpaths, pram ramps, pedestrian crossings, cars parking over footpaths and many other impedimence to a safe and pleasant walk. Do it! Write to them, call them up. It might be a chance to talk to an adult during the day, let off some steam and they will listen to you because everyone has a soft spot for sleep deprived mums. Beyond this, you will notice lots of interesting and banal things, like where the shadows fall at different times of the day in different seasons. You will know the faces of more and more of the people you pass and the buildings, the cracks in the pavement, the trees, the slopes, the windows and much more.

On the days I don’t walk, I feel like I am missing something. So, if you have a baby  remember you are only one step away from some fresh air, exercise and maybe even sanity. And if you don’t have a baby, see if you can borrow one to take for a walk. People look differently at you when they think you have a baby and then differently again when they see your pram actually contains five months worth of soft plastic you are returning to the supermarket.

Can you be too young to take the bus?

Before I went into labour, I had ideas about taking the bus to the hospital to give birth. To cut a very long and painful story short, those ideas didn’t become a reality. I also didn’t take the baby home by bus. However, days later I found myself returning to hospital (as you do), and I took the bus!

Before taking the bus I had looked all over the internet for rules or advice about taking a new born baby on the bus. I had even contacted the local transport authority. There was nothing to say you couldn’t take the baby on the bus, but there was nothing telling you how to do it. Meanwhile, people pay good money to get car seats fitted by experts so it seemed like there was a bit of a mismatch of advice on care in our community depending on how you travelled. I don’t have all the answers but I can at least tell you about my experiences.

The first time I took the bus with my little one, I took a car capsule. Short of bringing the whole car attachment, I found a way to wedge the capsule between me and the seat in front with the baby’s head towards the front. It felt quite safe and while I was in the bus it was comfortable enough. However, carrying a capsule around is hardwork and unless you have the pram for it, I would be reluctant to do that again. In spain, we actually came across a a baby seat integrated into the bus, although it wasn’t such a hit with my baby.

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Instead, the next time I took him in a carrier, huddled again my chest. It was a baby bjorn so had a bit of structure to it but I was still very wary of what way we might be flung if the bus stopped suddenly. If you choose to take a baby carrier, just be aware of what’s in front of you and possibly hold onto a bar or handle. This will help cushion the impact, if something was to go horribly wrong. You could also put the nappy bag between you and the seat in front to give an extra layer of softness. I often sit in the priority seating at the front where you are sideways and take the seat closest the back. In general though, it feels really fine having your baby close to your chest and once they get a little older you can start to look out the window together, or just spend the time entranced by your babies smile. A bus has only once slammed on the brakes with such force that it scared my baby. I was holding on and the baby didn’t get hurt at all.

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Then comes the pram… The first time I caught a bus with a pram I was worried I wouldn’t be able to even get the pram on the bus without tipping my baby off. Luckily, these days most buses lower the platform for you and it’s only a small step up.  Once you’re one the bus you need to look for the seats facing sideways that you can flip up to make room for your pram. Always park your pram backwards and as close to the front of this section as you can. Once you’ve shimmied your pram into place, put on the brake and use the belt to secure your pram (usually put it around the handle bar). Then sit near your pram and I usually thank the driver for not leaving until everything is secure. Where we live you have to tap on and off and these days I leave that to my toddler to do, but if it feels like a juggle to get your card out while you have the pram, just wait until it’s secured to deal with payment. Most bus drivers are pretty nice.

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You can either leave your baby/toddler in the pram or for the older more curious ones, they might want to get out and look around. My toddler has established a love of the front seat near the door, so he jumps out of the pram (usually while it’s still moving) and claims his prized spot if it’s free. Every baby is different, and there may be some tears but there will definitely be lots of laughing and smiles with both my children taking on the challenge of trying to get as many people on the bus to smile. I have also found myself doing squats (well, I stand up and sit down like a yoyo) while the bus is stopped to calm my baby. We may have also sung various versions of “the wheels on the bus” on every trip for a few months as my toddler went through a singing phase. One time there was even a chance to jump in the drivers seat while we waited to go through a tunnel.

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The great thing about a bus, that you don’t realise until you need to use a car, is that you don’t have to transfer your baby. If he is asleep in the pram or carrier, you can keep them asleep and enjoy a peaceful journey. As my babies grow, it has been fun to get them involved in the rituals of the bus, from hailing the bus, to ‘tapping on’ and pressing the stop button. My toddler has even reminded me that our stop is coming up when I have been in a bit of a daze (which can be common amongst young sleep deprived parents).

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When it’s time to get off the bus, if you have a pram, reverse it out through the front doors and don’t forget to tap off (if you need to) before you get off. There could always be possible problems, like no space in the pram/wheelchair area or a non-accessible bus. Sometimes there are ways around these problems, like folding up prams or jamming a pram between seats (my pram was just the right size to do this) but once or twice I have decided to walk instead. But walking with kids is fun too and I will write about that another day.

 

 

 

 

 

Four years ago I had no idea how I would travel with children

Four years ago a test came back positive. I was going to have a baby and I had no idea how this was going to change my transport (amongst other aspects of my life). I had been cycling around like a free spirit and I knew this wasn’t going to be able to continue without a hitch. But what was going to happen? Was I going to give up and buy a massive sports utility vehicle and live my life high behind a steering wheel? Or would I work out ways to stay free of this disastrous cliche.

Well, this week I’ve taken buses, trains, bikes and most importantly my two feet many miles with the two cutest children. My eldest son can hail a bus, mind the gap to the train, ride a balance bike to the park and he can spot a pantograph. It hasn’t been an easy or certain journey and I’m very much still on it, but I’d like to share some stories from the last few years and then keep you up to date with how I am going. Hopefully this will give you some insights and inspiration for your own journeys.

So let’s start with pregnancy. I kept cycling all through my first and second pregnancies. If it doesn’t feel right though, try changing your bike or find another way to get around. You will be able to ride again and learning to accept different situations for short lengths of time is a necessary part of becoming a parent. Having said that, I did find that cycling helped me stay sane and healthy as I slowly stopped higher impact sports.

During my first trimester I was extremely tired and sometimes I liked the look of the bus. However, I kept going with riding to work and I think it helped with some other symptoms, like reducing my nausea. Everyone is different though and I completely understand anyone who can’t find the energy to ride (or to get out of bed) during the first trimester. I actually went on a short cycle tour with my friends and due to my cycle pride I had to let them know that I had a really good reason for being a bit slower than normal. Don’t worry about not being able to keep up with your former self.  You are multi-tasking big time and you are giving a free ride to a foetus. If you want to keep riding but not so much, look at ways you could split it with public transport (bike to work one day and bus back then do the opposite the next day or put your bike on the train for a bit…). If you can’t ride, walking is also great for you and don’t feel ashamed to get off your bike and walk up some hills if you feel like it.

My second trimester was much better in most ways. I felt like I could almost ride normally but I did have a little bump in front of me. I think by your second pregnancy though, you realise this is nothing (after experiencing how big the bump will get). Just ride safely and confidently and you should be alright. At about 23 weeks I woke up in the middle of the night with a locked up knee – I couldn’t straighten or bend it completely and couldn’t bare weight on it. After contemplating surgery and a visit to the physio I was told that riding my bicycle was one of the best things I could do for recovery. Within a week my knee was almost perfect and I was so grateful I was still riding my bike and not having to go under a surgeon’s knife.

The last stages of my pregnancy did present little challenges to most physical part of my life but I kept enjoying my rides to work or wherever I needed to go. I did start walking my bike up the steep hill near my house and avoiding the hill near my work. It was important to be changing positions of my hands and getting out of the saddle sometimes to stay comfortable. My midwife was impressed with the position of the baby and actually thought the position on my bike might be helping. I did start to have a bit of social pressure to stop riding (not from any family or friends though). However, when I thought about how stable I was on my bicycle compared to how wobbly I was on my feet, it almost felt safer to stick with two wheels.

While I didn’t ride to the hospital, I kept cycling right up to my first contractions. After your baby is born, unless you are really lucky, a bike saddle doesn’t seem like so much fun. It is the last thing on your mind, so I hope you are lucky enough to be able to ride while you are pregnant. If you’re not, don’t fret. You soon will be riding with bike seats, trailers and other such fun things which I’ll talk about in another post.