Experts think these bike routes are safe for kids — Parents disagree
Where is it safe for your kid to rid his or her bike? Your response may be much different than what transportation experts believe.
A published study by Rutgers researchers, assisted by responses from nearly 200 New Jersey parents, found streets considered low-stress and suitable for children according to traffic officials, wouldn't necessarily get the same rating from parents of young children.
The study assessed the Level of Traffic Stress system, which grades paths on a four-tier scale to determine the safety of bicycle routes. In the system, a road segment considered "LTS 1" features simple crossings and strong separation from all except low speed, low volume traffic. It's the only level considered suitable for kids. Road segments at the "LTS 4" level, meanwhile, feature close proximity to high speed traffic and should only be used by bikers considered "strong and fearless," according to the rating system.
Usage of the system by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission can be viewed here. The agency's map includes a large chunk of the Garden State. LTS is also mentioned in the New Jersey Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan from 2016.
The study found that while an overwhelming majority of parents would allow their children to bike on multi-use pathways, many are unwilling to let them ride on other streets considered low stress. Less than half of parents said they'd allow their child to bike on a wide residential street; less than a third said they'd do so on narrow residential streets.
Researchers surveyed 187 Highland Park residents to get their views on six routes, then compared their responses to the Level of Traffic Stress methodology.
“It’s important to remember that lay and expert knowledge are not always aligned. Practitioners should incorporate more diverse perspectives in their work,” said lead researcher Kelcie Ralph, an assistant professor at Rutgers University—New Brunswick's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “Our research does not suggest the Level of Traffic Stress system is broken. Our hope would be that traffic practitioners consider differentiating more finely between low-stress streets, perhaps by designating some as very low stress.”
Parents preferred separation from traffic more than the LTS system suggests, according to the study. Parents willing to bike in many locations were also more willing to let their kids bike.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.