Northwest Portland State Representative Mitch Greenlick says he has gotten hundreds of emails over the past 24 hours—all about his bill to ban kids younger than six from being carried on bikes.

First of all, Greenlick isn't a transportation guy. He's a public health guy. He doesn't ride a bike in Portland ("Oh, no," he says, when I ask. "I'm 76 and I weigh 275 pounds.") but has spent his whole career doing health research. In a statement on the bill (pdf) he just sent out, he compares biking with kids to the old status quo of driving without seat belts:

My children were born in the late 1950s. Back then we would put the three kids in that back of a station wagon and let them bounce freely around the car while we traveled the country. It never occurred to us that we were putting them in danger... By the same token I do not believe there is a parent in Oregon who would want to risk the safety of their young children if they really believed it was risky to put them on a bicycle.

Mitch Greenlick
  • Wikicommons
  • Mitch Greenlick

A recent OHSU study of bike injuries in Portland sparked Greenlick's idea for the bill. The study shows that 22 percent of regular cyclists suffer some sort of injury annually, anything from a skinned knee to an ER-worthy broken bone. For some reason, Greenlick's statement this morning gets the numbers wrong (he says 30 percent suffer an injury), but either way he says the point of his bill is to start a discussion about the safety of riding with kids.

"The intention is to begin this discussion, not to have a hysterical discussion. The fact is that they have this blind faith, bicyclists believe they're immortal," says Greenlick. "I hope that the least that come out of this is a public health committee study of the situation." The representative says he has yet to hear of any bike crash involving a child, but that the one thing that's clear is more study is needed.

While he supports Safe Routes to School, the program that helps kids walk and bike to school, he thinks the widespread biking with kids that happens in countries like Denmark occurs under much different, safer circumstances than exist in Portland. "They're not riding down the side of Broadway on a slippery morning," says Greenlick.

UPDATE: SE Portland Representative Jules Bailey, who fondly remembers being strapped to a seat on the back of his dad's bike growing up in Portland, disagrees with the bill. His take below the cut.

Rep. Bailey is the guy who pushed last session for the Idaho Stop Law for bikes. Like Greenlick, he's gotten a flood of emails over the past day about this proposed law.

"I appreciate where Greenlick is coming from, he wants to make the transportation system safer for children," says Bailey. "But we don't ban kids from cars, we make cars safer for kids."

What about the argument that this bill will provoke more study of the issue and get some real facts? "We know pretty well what we need to do to make the streets safer for bikes," says Bailey, pointing to strengthening vulnerable road user laws and improving bike infrastructure.