The City Parent Rules
Navigating Traffic with Young Children

Rule #1: Stand well back from the street when waiting to cross. It's not safe to stand right on the curb. If you talk to your local police, they'll back us up on the frequency with which cars or buses find themselves forced up onto a sidewalk. You need to give yourself some margin of safety against that occurrence. Most safety experts recommend that pedestrians (and strollers) stand 2 feet back from the curb when waiting at an intersection. And we've heard of some cops who, based on what they've seen, think you need to stand at the building line to really be safe.

Rule #2: Keep conscious about the stroller. There are way too many accidents involving vehicles and strollers. Quite often the driver can see you but the stroller might be out of his field of vision. So you have to be extra careful and account for the stroller's extra length in every crossing decision you make. To the extent you can, reduce the length between you and the end of the stroller; keep it close and be vigilant.

Rule #3: Don't cross unless the light says walk. We all know this and, of course, we all ignore this with abandon. Who has time, after all, to wait for the next light change? But you're really pressing your luck if you've got young children in tow. Their legs are shorter, and they just can't make it as fast as you can. Want to know when grown-ups violate this dictum? Running to make a bus. In fact, at a busy intersection near Julia's apartment, the local police precinct posted notices admonishing pedestrians not to do just that. Apparently, there had been a rash of accidents involving pedestrians who had rushed across the intersection to catch a waiting bus at the stop on the other side. Also, points out Barbara Boisi, safety expert for the Parents League of New York, lights have different ways of working. One busy intersection near Julia's sons' school has a series of lights designed to clear the intersection from turning cars before the walk signal goes on. However, many pedestrians don't realize that and start walking too early, which has led to an unfortunate number of pedestrian incidents.

Rule #4: Use the pedestrian button. Signal crossing times differ among cities, among intersections, and can even change with the time of day. Who knew? In pedestrian-friendly Center City Philly, WALK signals run 7 seconds or more compared to typical city times of only 4 or 5 seconds. (Of course, you also get a few more seconds from the flashing DON'T WALK interval, but that's not a whole lot of time.) If you're not familiar with the dynamics of a particular intersection, you may find that a leisurely stroll with your 2-year-old turns into a terrified run as the WALK signal changes to DON'T WALK before you've taken 10 steps. On that theory, use the pedestrian button. Assuming it's working, it will get you different benefits in different places. At a minimum, it will speed up the time that the light changes to WALK again, but in some spots it actually lengthens crossing times. (In Boston, for example, where streets are typically allotted 7 or 8 seconds for crossings, button-pushing gets you 20.) As an extra added benefit, little kids love to push the button, so they will eagerly look forward to pursuing this exercise every time you need to cross.

Rule #5: Hold hands. As children get beyond 2, a little more willful and a little more independent, there is a great tendency among city parents and caregivers to give them maybe a tad more freedom than is prudent. You may think they know to stop at the curb but, according to the experts, you're taking an awfully big chance. Kids really don't have the maturity to take care of themselves in traffic until they're 9, so how can you expect your 4-year-old to make appropriate decisions? Hold their hands firmly when nearing a crossing and all the way through to the other side. In the same vein, horseplay at a street corner should be strictly forbidden. Young kids will get lost in the moment, and the next thing you know, one of them will be out in the street.

Reprinted from: The City Parent Handbook: The Complete Guide to the Ups and Downs and Ins and Outs of Raising Young Kids in the City by Kathy Bishop and Julia Whitehead © 2004 by Kathy Bishop and Julia Whitehead. (September 2004; $17.95US/$25.95CAN; 1-57954-887-3) Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at

Author's Bio: 

Kathy Bishop, a magazine and newspaper writer and editor for close to 20 years, has written articles for numerous publications, including Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Elle, and Harper's Bazaar magazines. Julia Whitehead is president of the strategic and financial consulting firm Pearson Enterprises. Both authors live, and parent, in New York City.

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