Kidical Mass – make space! Don’t limit children – limit traffic
Limit traffic. Trust kids! Kidical Mass wants to get the whole of Germany on their bikes. Bike Citizens spoke to the team driving the initiative: a family from Cologne with three children is behind the nationwide campaign
“We’re just back from Utrecht.” Our conversation with Simone and Steffen, a couple from Cologne with three children, begins with this euphoric sentence. The family is behind the nationwide Kinder aufs Rad (Kids on Bikes) campaign. In the form of Kidical Mass, Simone and Steffen are launching an unprecedented mobility offensive.
For safe, autonomous, anxiety-free mobility – at any age!
On the weekend of the campaign, cross-generational demonstrations will be held in over 60 cities across Germany – on street bikes, racing bikes, cargo bikes and children’s bike trailers.
SAVE THE DATE: 19 + 20th September 2020 – The nationwide Kidical Mass campaign, due to be launched on 21st/22nd March 2020 was postponed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. This text was published in March 2020 for the first time in German.
Their demands reflect reality – in Utrecht
Back to Utrecht. Or back to Simone and Steffen in Cologne, who are taking turns to answer all our questions about Kidical Mass – without actually talking about the format.
“We’ve never cycled as much in our whole lives as we did during that weekend in Utrecht. And we cycle a lot as a family. It was unbelievably easy. We were able to cycle two or three abreast on the street. There was plenty of space. The children sang as they cycled along the street, totally relaxed. The cycle paths are separate from the roads. If cars are allowed to park, it’s only on one side of the road. If there is no bike path, the stronger cyclists take up positions at the rear of the group. This means: cars drive slowly behind cyclists!” They never found themselves in a dangerous situation.
“The kids immediately noticed how free and easy it is to cycle in Utrecht!” After just a few kilometres on the bike, the two older children (aged 11 and 5) marvelled at how calm everything was.
Everyone is in the flow. No-one rings their bells or honks their horns. No one get stressed – not even the other cyclists. “We’re not in the way. We’re part of a beautiful stage play!”
The little one (3 years old) was fixated on the road surface:
“Papa! Mama! There’s no broken glass on the ground here. Or dog poop!”
Everyone is delighted. So that’s what a city built for people looks like. Here, pedestrians and cyclists – no matter their age – can move around freely.
>> Click the link! The video shows how relaxed and fun a cycling tour with three children through the city can be. The family was cycling with the Dutch Cycling Embassy in Utrecht…
Is your city safe enough for a five-year-old to comfortably navigate the rush hour traffic?We recently hosted Kidical Mass Köln from Cologne, Germany to cycle the child-friendly streets of Utrecht.This was what they experienced. Read more about their work: https://kidicalmasskoeln.orgGepostet von Dutch Cycling Embassy am Dienstag, 25. Februar 2020
Make cars pay: take away space from motor vehicles
What makes the Netherlands’ fourth largest city, with just over 350,000 inhabitants, so liveable compared to Germany? Simone and Steffen are in agreement: the mindset! In addition to Vision Zero and “presumed liability” – this means that in an accident with a cyclist, the driver of the car is always to blame – there are three other main factors that make Utrecht a great place to live: good infrastructure for cyclists, fair space distribution for everyone, and legislation that prioritises cyclists and pedestrians. An impressive example of this: car parking costs are four times higher than in Germany. Parking costs in the city of Utrecht are 40 euros per day. Residential parking is very limited. In the city centre, the parking of second cars is prohibited. Buses and taxis are allowed, however.
Simone and Steffen want to import this mindset and model of urban design to Germany. This is why Kidical Mass has clear political demands:
- All children and adolescents should be able to cycle safely and autonomously around the city
- Anxiety-free cycling for everyone
- Safe network of bike paths for going to school
- 30 kph inner-city speed limit
The initiative is supported nationwide by the ADFC, Campact, Changing Cities, Radkomm and VCD. At the local level, 110 alliance partners are at the heart of the movement. “Behind each initiative, there are countless individuals. Big personalities who are sacrificing their free time to make such a crazy event possible!” emphasise Simone and Steffen. But Kidical Mass is more than a crazy one-off event. “Kidical Mass” stands for a consensus of values: thousands of people share Simone and Steffen’s vision. The nationwide campaign has hit a societal nerve at the right time.
Children and families as projections of societal ideals
“We are now at a point where cities are becoming unbearable for many reasons. Air pollution, noise pollution, lack of space, environmental damage, climate change – we can’t go on like this. Also: what will happen to our children?” the pair ask.
The media regularly publishes articles about nature deficiency syndrome, stunted motor skills, lack of independence in traffic, or children’s restricted range of movement. Instead of serious self-reflection, what usually follows is parent-bashing in accordance with societal ideals: in these articles, helicopter parents with SUV taxis are merely figures of ridicule.
The fact is that public space – as it is currently designed –
is a completely unsuitable environment to support the development of children. And societal structures aren’t great for adults either.
Paralysed behind the wheel instead of curiosity
When did children stop playing on the streets? When did schools start banning children from cycling to school? Since when have parents been considered negligent if they let their children walk or cycle to school alone – possibly even without a helmet? These are some of the consequences of mass motorisation, and Germany is right at the heart of them. Uncertainty and fear are leaving all road users with shorter fuses. The result is that neither parents nor children dare to cycle even short distances, regardless of whether they live in the city or the country. Streets should be meeting places, not combat zones. There is a general lack of imagination about how things could work differently. We are in a state of shock-induced paralysis – and mostly behind the wheel.
From aha to action
“I can talk for hours about how wonderful cycling is and how easy it is as a family to live without a car. How happy children are when you have the confidence to let them roam free. But: people always need to experience it for themselves. Car-free days are perfect for this. They open people’s eyes, even if only temporarily. People see how great things could be on the roads. Awareness of new opportunities is growing. It’s not about whether bike paths are 60cm or 90cm wide any more, but rather about redesigning our entire living environments” say Simone and Steffen.
Attending a Kidical Mass event and protesting for liveable cities; that’s taking action. This is the only way that Kidical Mass can increase the pressure on politicians and simultaneously bolster support for its future-oriented and grandchild-friendly decisions.
Who turned Amsterdam into a city of bikes?
From Kusterdingen to Berlin: in the first few weeks of the campaign, 40 cities from all over Germany joined in rapid succession. When the ADFC lent its name as an alliance partner, a further 20 cities joined in one fell swoop. And more are signing up every day. “Kidical Mass is not some urban hipster phenomenon. And that’s its strength. It appeals to large and small cities alike. Old and young. People with and without kids. We’ll take them all!” And: “We have no time for cold calling!” laugh the initiators.
In larger cities, most bike enthusiasts are firm fans of Kidical Mass. Medium-sized cities often have a community of Critical Mass devotees who are now also committed to Kidical Mass. In smaller towns, it’s private individuals who have taken up the torch. All in all: this is a bottom-up movement protesting for a change in mobility!
When you remember that it was children’s demos in the 1970s that protested against the “motorisation trap” in Amsterdam and turned it into the cycling capital of the world, you suddenly see the power of Kidical Mass in a whole new light.
Take off your safety vest, baby!
Simone and Steffen are the core team behind the ‘Kidical Mass’ alliance. They do this in addition to raising their family, going to work and living their everyday lives, and on a shoestring budget. They have around 10 people supporting them in the areas of film, web and graphics. They receive a financial grant from national partners. For them, giving up Kidical Mass is not an option.
“We get so much support from our environment and our family. Nevertheless, the first stretch of the road was bumpy.” Simone and Steffen found out the hard way that it’s not easy getting people on board. The couple wants just one thing:
Stop putting safety vests on your kids. Stop drinking coffee. Clean your apartment later. Get out on the streets! For your children and the future!
On a level with children. Or on a level with the rear of an SUV?
Kidical Mass is Steffen and Simone’s fourth baby. And they have ambitions for their brainchild: they say that cycling is like freewheeling for people who are stuck on the treadmill of job-family-everyday routine. Children don’t fit into the hectic pace of modern life. Parents no longer live in the moment. Cycling gives you a completely new form of self-empowerment. Cycling is freedom. Cycling is independence and self-efficacy.
Kidical Mass is not using children and adolescents to raise the profile of cycling for political purposes. Rather, it is giving a voice to a group that has no political lobby. The only way that children are “on a par” with the rear of an SUV is physically.
“Who knows how the world will change when we realise that cities are for living in and not for consumption.” says Simone. Or for parking cars…
About Simone Kraus and Steffen Brückner
Simone and Steffen live with their two sons (11 and 5) and their daughter (3) in the centre of Cologne. As a family of five, living without a car is totally normal for them. Whether it’s a big shop, camping supplies, or everything you need for a kid’s birthday party, they transport everything in their cargo bike. The children are keen cyclists. Even the youngest has been cycling (on her bike with 14-inch wheels) to her nursery 2 km away since she was 3 1/2. On their last summer holiday, instead of borrowing their friend’s camper van, they travelled by train for the first time and took their bikes. Steffen and Simone run Kidical Mass on a voluntary basis as well as working in the fields of energy, sustainability and communication – and raising their family.