Dear PoPville – Holding a Baby While Bicycling? Biking in the City with Kids in General?


“Dear PoPville,

Monday night I was driving south on Georgia Avenue with some friends when we witnessed something disturbing: a man (25?) speeding down the hill on a bicycle, steering the bike with his left hand and holding a baby in his right. By baby I mean maybe 18 months? Definitely not old enough to talk. Neither were wearing helmets.

We watched the guy run TWO red lights (and nearly miss and SUV turning onto Georgia at the first) before hopping on Florida and speeding away.

First of all–this has to be illegal, right? Child endangerment?

Secondly, I see lots of parents biking with kids, and it always makes me nervous (and I say that as a fellow city biker myself). Most parents do the all the rights things by biking in bike lanes, strapping their kids in seats, and making sure everyone has a helmet. But there are still so many things you can’t control for.

I’m curious to know what your readers think: Is it always a bad idea to bike on city streets with kids? And when you see something so clearly reckless as we did last night, should you bother reporting it to the police? Were any laws actually broken (besides the running of red lights)?

And I forgot the most important thing: it was after dark and he had no reflectors or lights on his bike!”

57 Comment

  • A bicycle is a vehicle and should be treated as such. I think the same rules should apply as in a car – the child should need to be strapped into an approved safety seat. I also think that kids in DC under a certain age are required to wear helmets.

  • This is frightening. WHY don’t people wear helmets? It boggles me. Most days biking to/from work I see a near miss and far too many people not wearing helmets. I can’t even begin with the child.

    • I hope you will reconsider your beliefs on bicycle helmets. Here is a place to start researching (plenty more if you google bicycle helmet safety):

      • To be more accurate about it, the scientific jury on bicycle helmet safety and efficacy is still out. Our understanding of brain injury has changed since many of the original studies were done (late 80s, early 90s), as has the general design of bike helmets, and even the way people ride bikes in cities. However, even with old helmets, there is statistically significant data from meta-analyses showing a correlation between wearing a helmet and lower instances of brain injury…so I’d err on the side of caution until we know more and wear a helmet!

  • Children on bikes are perfectly safe, if they are wearing the proper gear, have a proper seat, and a parent who is a competent biker who considers the safest route. As a parent who has switched form driving to biking I find that when you are biking you are much more focused on what you are doing in that you cannot be distracted by a phone, radio, etc.

  • First of all, 18 months isn’t a baby. It’s a toddler. Not that that matters here, but it’s a distinction lots of non-parents don’t get.

    As for the biking, lots of stuff can happen to you either on a bike or walking down the street. All you can do is take proper measures and keep your eyes open. You can’t live life constantly afraid of every small risk.

    This particular biker, I dunno. Maybe the kid was having an emergency and he was rushing to the hospital?

    • You’re ridiculous.

      • And you’re not helpful. His/her speculation was no different from anyone else’s. It’s easy to speculate and take the finger shake route. And you know what’s even easier? Yeah, that’s right: “you’re ridiculous”

    • “Biking Dad,” are you really trying to say that the person described above wasn’t doing anything wrong? Are you high?

  • No, it is most definitely not “always a bad idea” to bike on a city street with kids. It is often a great idea. I love seeing parents out with kids on bikes – their presence further normalizes bikes as a mode of urban transportation, and the kiddies are more likely to inspire drivers of automobiles to take proper care, and obey the speed limit.

    • It’s like people think putting a kid in a car is a safe thing to do.

      • It’s like everyone in this city has a car…

        Definitely not saying it’s cool to hold a kid in one arm and steer a bike with the other, but your comment is a bit myopic.

  • Super dangerous and that guy’s an idiot…..but I’m not sure how you or the cops would catch him.
    That said, biking with a small child is definitely riskier than walking them in a stroller. But probably not much riskier. You’re still more likely to get in an accident while in a car, yet that is still deemed “safe” for a child.
    I guess my only advice would be taking the safest, quietest route possible. Avoid construction zones where the road might be in bad shape or the bike lane would be blocked, thus forcing you out into traffic.

    • justinbc

      “Hi, police?”
      “Yes, this is the police.”
      “I just saw a guy biking down the street holding a baby!”
      “Did you get his license plate number?”
      “Bikes have license plates?”
      “Oh, OK then.”
      “Alright then, goodbye.”

  • What that guy did was definitely not smart.
    As for people following the rules and being smart about how they are biking, good for them (us). Recognize that there are also risks driving with kids, but do you not drive on the highway with them?

  • GiantSquid

    Whether or not you agree with it, adult cyclists are not required to wear a helmet. People have strong feelings on either side of the argument, you’re probably not going to change minds by debating it here.

    However, children under the age of 16 in the District are required to wear a helmet when biking:
    – The law mandates that riders under 16 are required to wear a helmet while cycling in the District of Columbia.
    – The law also requires that children under the age of 16 wear a helmet when riding a scooter, skateboard, sled, coaster, toy vehicle, or any similar device. (

    There are many safe and fun ways to get around the DMV with your kids and a bike. Check out KidicalMass for more information. Unfortunately, as with all things, there are people that don’t follow the rules, risking their safety and others, and making others look unnecessary bad.

    • Holy crap. Had no idea that the law was this broad — and I’m a lawyer. We’re strict about helmets when our kids ride bikes, but usually not when they’re on scooters, and definitely not when they’re sledding. And even if I agreed with the scooter and sledding rule, toy vehicles? Really?

    • Sled? Really? That seems silly.

    • … and the scooter one is a good idea. Probably more crash prone than bikes

  • While I can’t condone the cyclist breaking the law, honestly isn’t one of the more dangerous things parents can do is put their kids in a car?

    In Amsterdam I saw plenty of people riding their bikes carrying infants IN THEIR ARMS. The Dutch are awesome.

    • First, thanks!

      Second, riding a bicycle in the US and one in the Nederlands is totally different. Here it is like a sport, where you are trying to dodge cars (and people are always honking at you). Back in the Nederlands, it’s totally different.

    • I have to beg to differ, after living in Amsterdam for several years and commuting solely by bike to work and for fun stuff there is a decided LACK of people biking holding children in their arms. There are lots of bikes with safety seats, and really fun stuff – like 3 safety seats on a bike! I’m no fan of the Dutch in general but biking, and biking with kids is something they do very, very right.

  • The above cyclist is clearly acting recklessly, but regarding cycling with children in general I don’t follow. So should our children live in a bubble? The chances of a child being in an automobile accident is probably just as great. Should children never ride in a car? As a young child, I often accompanied my dad on bike trips sitting on the bike carrier on the back of the bike, and I’m still here today. Also, such exposure to bikes as a young kid led to my love of biking today, which leads to a healthy lifestyle, rather than being chauffeured around in a “safe” gas guzzling SUV. In Europe, like in the Netherlands and Denmark, children in bike carriers are the norm, and they seem to be doing fine.

  • I’m a city biker- I’m out there at least six days a week guaranteed for work and groceries, etc… I wouldn’t have the stomach to try biking with a small child. I take a risk myself everyday, but I’m accustomed to the unique aspects of city biking (i.e., being aware of getting doored) and know techniques and rules for getting around. But carrying a child or having non-city biker just take to the streets without training: Way too much risk as far I’m concerned with texting drivers, incompetent drivers, and angry/aggressive drivers. What you saw sounds particularly outrageous and could end up being an opportunity for nature to clean out the gene pool, so to speak. Sad for the kid, though.

  • This cyclist is bad (broke maybe 5 laws and behaved very dangerously). Calling the police probably wouldn’t have helped, but it wouldn’t have hurt.

    Taking kids on the road on your bike is not. In fact, despite obsessively reading about bikes and statistics related to them, I have never heard of a case of a child being killed while riding on a seat attached to a bike or in a trailer behind one. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, just that I’m guessing it is exceedingly rare.

  • “I’m curious to know, does PoPville enjoy judging others as much as I do?”

    You bet your ass we do. I predict 100+ comments. Would normally be fewer but we have bicycling in the city as the topic, so. Go nuts.

  • Last summer a guy riding a motorized bike with his toddler riding in front of him was riding the wrong way on 14th St NE (near the checkers) and t-boned a car crossing through the intersection. I immediately called 911 but he started yelling at me to not call the cops and that his kid was fine even though his kid was screaming. I told the 911 operator what happened meanwhile the guy grabbed his kid and walked away. I’m always amazed how reckless some people are with their kids lives.

  • How about a blind adult carrying a baby strapped to his chest and walking aross NY Ave with a cane? I saw this a few years ago and was stumped.

    • What alternatives would you suggest?

      • Cab? Friend to carry baby? Literally a hundred other things?

        • No money for a cab? Need to get from point a to point b, with no friend happening to be around to come with you at that very moment? I for one don’t see anything wrong with this scene. Was he crossing NY Ave dangerously or recklessly? Is there some other reason this stumped you?

          • The fact that you can’t envision finding any safer way to get to a destination other than crossing one of the busiest streets in DC as a blind man with a baby is what stumps me.

            You can use your imagination or continue to posit hypotheticals and we could go all day, I suppose.

    • Jaywalking across New York Avenue, or walking in a crosswalk at an intersection with a Walk/Don’t Walk signal? (Or something else — walking at a non-signalized crosswalk?)

      • I had never seen a blind person carry a baby in crowded traffic, never saw it depicted, never heard it discussed in my life. So I was stumped as to whether it’s groovy, or maybe a little risky? The baby was really small. Everyone else near me was stumped too. On a dime, I was not sure what to think.

        • Emmaleigh504

          There’s a This American Life (I think) episode where a guy who is blind talks about how his life changed when he got a kid. He talks abut taking the baby for a walk by himself for the first time. He was nervous at first, but it’s something he has to learn. Just like he learned to walk himself around outside alone. It’s a fact of life.

  • There are many things in life you can’t control for.

  • I live in Columbia Heights, and I often see fathers of young children riding down the sidewalk with their young (school-age, usually) kids balanced on the handlebars. No one is wearing a helmet.

    • I often see people driving by in cars, with kids in the backseat. No one is wearing a helmet.

      There is evidence to suggest that wearing helmets in cars makes as much sense (safety-wise) as wearing them on bicycles. Yet somehow nobody worries about drivers without helmets. Get on a bike, though…

      • The “helmet” in that case *is* the car. upon impact it absorbs energy from the collision, while seatbelts keep you secured to it and airbags prevent you from collision with the inside of the car.

  • “there are still so many things you can’t control for”
    I wonder how this person manages to leave the house every morning.
    The safety seat-less thing is absurd. Otherwise, biking with a kid in tow is probably healthier than driving even when accounting for accidents.

  • Hi, I’m Megan.

    I’ve been biking with my kids in the District for almost four years now. I’ve also run Kidical Mass rides for the past three years to encourage parents and children to bike together.

    I’m not even going to try to address “no-hands Dad” in the OP. There is plenty of stupid to go around in the world, and that includes cyclists and family cyclists as much as anybody else.

    But I did want to address the larger question of whether it’s safe to bike with kids. As I mentioned, I’m a long-time family cyclist and I’ve biked with kids throughout DC and in Prince George’s County. I’ve also driven and walked with my kids in those areas. I’ve been injured driving my car and I’ve been injured crossing the street with my son. I’ve never been injured while riding my bike (except for the time I rode my bike into a tree and bruised heavily in some unmentionable places, but we won’t discuss that.)

    I’ve also been assiduously following news about biking with kids during the past four years. Here’s what I’ve learned about how little kids die: they die in cars. They die while crossing the street. Sometimes, tragically, they die while riding their own bikes. The number of children killed and injured just by being backed over by their own parents’ cars in their own driveways will make you want to give up on humanity.

    How DON’T children die? They don’t die while being towed or carried by their parents on bikes. I’ve been devouring every piece of news I could find about biking with kids for over four years now. I’ve heard of two incidents in which a parent was cycling with a kid in a trailer or a seat and then struck by a car. In both cases, the parent received serious but not life-threatening injuries and the kids got off with scrapes and bruises because of their protective equipment (trailer & bike seat, helmets for both).

    To my knowledge, there’s been no formal review of stories about bike collisions that involved children as passengers. But I’m going to suggest strongly that if such an incident has happened and resulted in a child’s death sometime in the past four years, it would have received extensive coverage in the news. And I would have heard about it.

    Children also die by drowning– at the rate of two kids every day in the US. That doesn’t mean we don’t let our kids near water. It means that we take safety precautions and teach them how to swim, in order to lower their risk. Biking with kids is no different.

  • This is so common — not the helmet issue, but kids riding with parents in DC — I can’t even believe there is debate. There are also mulitple options for small children, and it’s usually small children as older children can ride themselves. I’ve seen some on seats secured to front handlebars, rear seats, extension bikes with e 2nd seat/3rd wheel, ride-on bikes that are like a bench, towing strollers, etc. I’m propably missing some.

    I’d love to hear advice from any experienced parent rider on the pros/cons of the various options.

  • I saw the same guy the other night at 18th and P St and had the exact same reaction, only I couldn’t get my phone out fast enough to take a photo (at least, I hope it’s the same guy and there aren’t two people doing this). I thought about calling 911 to report him but figured he’d be long gone by the time the police got there (and that they might think I was ridiculous). Not only did it seem extremely dangerous for him to be holding a child in one arm while steering with his other hand, but he was also biking in what I would describe as a reckless manner. He was going pretty fast, and he took a left on P from 18th in front of oncoming traffic, causing a car to stop short and honk at him (he smiled and seemed almost pleased at this), and then proceeded to bike directly in the middle of P St , where he almost collided with a van that was trying to drive around him. I was pretty stunned and very concerned for the kids.

  • About the guy holding the baby, that is scary and dangerous, don’t do that.

    About kids properly in bike seats and helmets, that is fine. Biking isn’t a dangerous activity, and I would wager any parent with their child on a bike is going to be extra cautious. What is dangerous is drivers who speed, run red lights, text while driving, and ignore other traffic laws. (Yes, I know a lot of bikes run red lights and stop signs. But there is a difference between a bike and a 2 ton SUV running a light.) The behavior we should focus on changing is breaking traffic laws and reckless driving.

    • How much is that wager because you owe me. I regularly see a guy cycling with his kid in one of those tent like things hitched behind run every (!) stop sign on R Street between 3rd and 6th. They go a different way after that point so I can only vouch for that section. I see them at least once a week. And always, the guy runs the stop signs. No pausing. Just straight through.

  • My wife and I are expecting so I’ve been thinking a lot about biking with children. We are a one car household living in a semi-walkable neighborhood. I bike to work downtown. I don’t want to change that lifestyle. Someone gave us a book with reviews about all sorts of baby things. When I got to the bicycle area I was disappointed to read that there is no safe way to bike with a child except maybe a burley when they are older. I disagree.

    I do think biking with a baby/small child can be done in a safe way. I want to get a bakfiet. A bakfiet is a dutch bike that is long and has what looks like a wheel barrow in front. In the Netherlands they are car replacements. I intend to use it the same way. They come with seat belts for kids, rain guards, and attachments to lock a baby carrier in place. I don’t think I would try it until the child is at least 6 months old. Even then I’m not imagining anything too adventurous. I just want to be able to bike to and from the daycare. I would only take quiet streets. For getting downtown or going southbound I would use the Kansas Ave bike lane and 11th St. The drivers aren’t nearly as dangerous on those streets as 14th St for example.

    The biggest challenge to my plans is actually coming up with a good way to lock the bike. It’s too big and heavy to come inside and they cost about $2,000 so you want it to be secure. I may install a bike rack in my tree lawn, if that’s legal and everything. Bakfiets are expensive bikes but if it can prevent having to add a car then it’s worth the price.

    The importance of helmets is overblown but I wear one every day and will have my child wear one. It’s a small price to pay to keep my wife from worrying too much.

  • I’ve biked with my kids since they had proper head control. It does tend to make you a more aware and cautious cyclist. So, yes it is safe, I’d say, but not risk free. Welcome to parenting — make your own tradeoffs, you’re in charge.

    That guy was an idiot, of course. Try not to conflate issues, always a good lesson for kids and grown ups alike.

  • I saw a guy at the Y tonight holding a toddler and he picked up a dumbbell and started doing curls with his free arm. Later he did pull-ups with the toddler on the floor beneath him in the free weight room. A trainer was in there and said nothing.

  • Steal is real.

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