Stroller-Share: Can I Get an Amen?

Childless urbanites love to hate the stroller. New Yorker Laura Miller started a blog, “Too Big For Stroller,” dedicated to mocking older children who get around the easy way. Commenters on a Greater Greater Washington story about strollers on buses last year showcased surprising vitriol, saying, “Carry your child, like an able-bodied adult should” and “Pretty lousy parenting, when you could fold the stroller and hold the child” and “Keep those strollers off our buses.” There are internet rants against giant, SUV-style strollers (and, five years ago on Streetsblog, a defense). A New York Times story about stroller rage ended up plumbing deeper emotional issues around unequal social status for breeders and non-breeders.

Check out a stroller, return it to any station. Photo: ##http://blog.undercovertourist.com/2012/02/5-reasons-to-use-a-stroller-on-a-theme-park-vacation/strollerparking_hs_2/##Undercover Tourist##

It’s all well and good to be smug about your smaller footprint when your baby is still small enough to be carried long distances in a sling. But let’s be clear: For car-free, city-dwelling parents, strollers are a necessity — and sometimes even for bigger kids. A four-year-old can certainly walk on his own from the parking lot to the mall, but if your day involves miles of walking as your primary mode of transportation, you’re going to end up carrying that kid a lot.

“For urban parents, the stroller is the equivalent of a suburbanite’s automobile,” said the designers of a transit-compatible stroller a few months ago. ”It is the vehicle that enables mobility and freedom in day-to-day life for families with young children. But navigating metro rail systems with conventional strollers can be exceedingly taxing — and dangerous.”

Indeed, strollers don’t always make things easy. Or rather, cities don’t always make things easy for parents with strollers.

Cobblestone streets, missing curb cuts, crowded buses, revolving doors – and then subways, with their own set of obstacles like turnstiles and stairs – make baby-strolling a major challenge. Sometimes it’s easier just to carry the kid.

Here’s where Stroller-Share would come in. It’s easier for me, and for the other passengers, to carry my seven-month-old daughter Luna to the bus and hold her in my lap while we ride. Taking the stroller on the bus (where policy dictates that strollers be folded) involves quickly taking my child out as the bus pulls up, collapsing it with one hand while holding a wriggling baby with the other (including fastening a latch that is decidedly a two-handed job), and paying my fare with my third hand. Oh yeah, I don’t have a third hand. This is why I’m happy to carry her short distances. And as she gets too big to be carried, she’ll be able to walk short distances.

But once we get off the bus, it sure would be nice to have a stroller as we walk around a museum, or the zoo, or when I sit down for a meal. (Once kids are old enough to grab, they’re too old to hold on your lap while you eat.) And if they sleep well in the stroller, you don’t have to be prisoner to their nap schedules. You can continue with your full and busy day and they can just be lulled to sleep by the vibrations of the pavement (and potholes).

It’s easy enough to say, “I’m never going to be one of those moms pushing a kid around in a stroller who’s old enough to walk,” but you can bet I will be. If I’m not, it’s because I got suckered into the myth that you need a car if you have a kid. As Luna gets bigger, Stroller-Share would be useful for the outings where she starts out strong but wears out quickly. I bet any number of visitors to the National Mall get caught flat-footed when they realize it’s a full two miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial – not to mention the distance back to wherever they parked the station wagon. Solution? Stroller-share!

We could name it Bay-B-Cycle in Denver, BittyTyke in New York, Capital Strollershare in DC, Play-Nice Ride in Minneapolis, the Cubway in Boston, Baby Bixi in Montreal.

Like bike-share, you’d have stroller stations in key places: transit hubs, tourist areas, shopping centers, children’s museums. There would be a small range of options to accommodate newborns without head control as well as older kids who just need a rest, as well as double-wides. They’d all have a cargo basket underneath so parents can get a bit of a break from carrying diaper bags and such. The free half-hour might not make much sense for strollers, as they’re not often used just to dart from one place to another, like a bike-share user would. Daily, monthly and annual memberships could still be available, with a focus on making one-time rentals as easy as possible, with payment by the hour.

There may be some need for vans to relocate the strollers, as they do with bike-share, but since the strollers will likely have less intense peaks and valleys of usage, there should be fewer shortages and dock-blocking to worry about.

What do you think? Should I kick-start this thing?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “For urban parents, the stroller is the equivalent of a suburbanite’s automobile.”

    Right.

    “Childless urbanites love to hate the stroller.”

    Actually, its probably much the same sort of people who complain about bicycles, and seniors walking slowly with canes.

  • Bolwerk

    I realize strollers are sometimes necessary, but I think the major complaint people have with them is the suburban-reared narcissists who tend to use them the most also tend to abuse them the most. Just think of how annoying that yuppie dink talking on his/her cell phone is when s/he beelines into you without the slightest awareness of other people on a crowded sidewalk. That becomes almost rather hazardous when that yuppie dink is pushing around a stroller. 

  • NM

    Oh hell yes.  I’m not a breeder, never will be, but . . . the more stroller-friendly the city, the more, wheelchair/pedestrian/luggage friendly it is too.  No reason we shouldn’t be able to take full advantage of wheeling things around.  Maybe it could convert to a little wagon too . . . for older kids or heavy stuff!

  • You’d need a lot of Purell to get this project off the ground.

  • my bugaboo is like one of the GM super SUV’s. i only have a few more weeks with it

  • Anonymous

    Yes, Tanya, you should. I think you could be on to something.

    My two sons are now teenagers so I’m a decade past strollering. Your post brought back memories of my stroller-less nightmare at the Bronx Zoo on Labor Day weekend, 1999. A near-tornado roared through and cancelled a park ride that would have brought my 4-year-old back and me near the southern entrance and the East 180th subway station. Instead, we had to hike out to the north exit, which meant a mile-or-longer hike to the station at Pelham Parkway, in steady rain, on dodgy roads. We alternated walking with my hoisting him. It was lonely and a bit scary and felt endless. Stroller-share would have helped.

  • Jesse Greene

    I don’t hate strollers but I do resent the double-standard for strollers and bikes in transit.  For instance, on the PATH train there are 6 hours every day (and of course the 6 hours with the most commuters) when you’re not allowed to bring on a non-folding bike and a whole host of other regulations about them:  
    http://www.panynj.gov/path/bicycles.html.  But there’s no comparable policy for strollers.  The only thing it says on their website is that you have to take your kids out of the stroller before you put it on an escalator.    There isn’t even a requirement that you fold the stroller. 

    So how much more space does a bike take up than a stroller, folded or not?  Any?  This seems like another situation where the needs of cyclists are unmet just because there aren’t many of them.  But if there aren’t many of them then how can a few bikes cause much of a problem during rush hour?  And if conversely there are many of them, then why isn’t the system trying to meet the demand?  

    It’s nice that transit agencies try to meet some of the demands of people living car-free but they should make at least minimal efforts to include everyone.  

  • Vbaloghrosenthal

    With twins, I certainly needed a stroller but San Francisco’s MUNI was not very accommodating. Once, when my kids were 6 months old, I had both kids on an empty bus, one in a single stroller and the other in a baby backpack, and the driver asked me to collapse the stroller saying it was safer for us. This meant, because of the occupied backpack,  I had to teeter on the edge of the seat while holding both my other child and the folded up stroller — hit one bump and the stroller (and possibly one child) would go flying through the bus.

    Taking the subway was no better. I was told to close a double stroller “for our safety” but this meant when we got off the train, I had to carry the stroller rather than helping four tiny feet navigate the gap between train and platform.

    I can’t understand why Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t also include families with young children, thus giving preferential seating. 

    Kids who grow up riding public transit are more likely to ride it as adults!

  • Anonymous

    I have a 2-year old in NYC and have a stroller than rarely use. But it is useful sometimes, and I have nothing against strollers, and I had nothing against them before I had a child.

    If our buses and other public transportation were better designed, they could accommodate the needs of stroller users, cyclists, travelers, etc., MUCH better. I’m thinking of the buses and trams I saw in Switzerland in some other places in Europe: Every bus or tram had a big section in the middle with no seats. This could be used for strollers, bikes, suitcases, Ikea boxes, or simply for standing without getting in anyone’s way. Contrast that with the MTA buses in NYC with their narrow aisle that is difficult to traverse even for an unburdened passenger. (Another feature of the buses in Switzerland was that they were BRT-like in the sense of off bus fare collection and efficient boarding and deboarding). The bus line that went to the Basel airport even used specially designed buses with extra cargo space. Compare that with the A train in NYC! And train cars in Europe often had an entire car just for bikes! 🙂

    But back to the topic of stroller share: I’d be willing to use it, but given the prevalence of germ phobia among American parents, I think a lot of people would not use it because of the cooties.

  • The one site they linked to that makes fun of kids too big for strollers is pretty awful, and I usually have a good sense of humor (I love stfu parents). I don’t use strollers much and definitely not for my older kids but some of those kids might have developmental delays. They also don’t do a good job of hiding the child’s and parent’s identity. 

    Also, in big cities it just isn’t feasible to make a three year old walk around all day. How is a stroller any worse than keeping your kid locked up in a car seat all day? 

  • Anonymous

    I like this idea. I know that some people are going to complain about hygiene, but I don’t think it should be a dealbreaker– use vinyl padding, and parents can carry their own wet-wipes and a blanket to sit on (as many already do). Could even dispense such things from a vending machine. Maybe even have a few more services under the same “brand”– a clean bathroom is something that comes to mind– accessible with a bikeshare-style membership.

    I have been in several European countries which take families’ comfort pretty seriously, where every transit station seemed to have a dedicated play structure-slash-public art, and the train(!) even had a kids’ area stocked with books and toys. It was nice.

  • Guest

    Brilliant idea!

  • Umbrella strollers.  They’re cheap and light, they fold up small, and they’re designed to be folded with one hand. You can’t carry an infant in them, but you can carry an infant in a sling.  We had one medium-sized stroller for trips around the neighborhood, and went through three umbrella strollers.

  • Daniel

    And they are too short for me to comfortably push.

  • Hilda

    We got rid of the stroller when my youngest was three, (he is now 7). We used a wooden push bike, created a strap for it, and he would use this a lot and then just walk or take the subway when he was tired. This was the best thing ever. He loved being able to move himself, and we got him to preschool in a NYC city winter more than a mile away. Everyday. My older child just went by foot or on our bikes. They are both now enamored with their scooter or their own bike. 
    Going stroller free is like going car free. It seems impossible until you do it, and then you figure out ways to make it work, and you are happier than ever.

  • http://www.onestepahead.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=176&parentCategoryId=85184&categoryId=85219&subCategoryId=86214

    And yes, Hilda, I let the kid walk whenever he could.  It was a lot of the time.

  • Kevin Giant

    Or why not have bike share include child-carrying bicycles.  Like these cyclists in Japan.  Note:  I recommend skipping the first 1:10 of someone yapping about what you are about to see and go straight to seeing it.

  • KYouell

    YES! There are those of us who have children with special needs who *need* a stroller. I couldn’t have managed my son with Down syndrome and his little sister on public transportation without it. And that was a side-by-side double stroller. I made sure to get be that was ADA compliant (30 inches wide), but we still couldn’t ride the bus only light rail trains. We’ve since moved from the ‘burbs to a more urban area and bought a bakfiets (Dutch box bike made for transporting children) so it’s not an issue any more, but we had 2-3 years where that stroller was our car. Please include us when you think about the parents that need strollers. I would back that Kickstarter in a heartbeat.

  • Easy

    The real problem is we don’t devote enough resources to transit and sidewalks in these places, so they’re chronically overcrowded. Meanwhile most people drive around with 3 seats of wasted space.

  • Kidical Mass DC

    Tanya, if you get this off the ground, I will become a founding member of Capital Strollershare!

    It is genuinely shocking for me how hostile some walkability advocates will become on the subject of strollers and even children in general (Greater Greater Washington commenters, I’m looking at you!). Raising children in an urban environment is a difficult, badly-supported, and sometimes extremely expensive choice, but it’s one that has enormous benefit for ALL stakeholders. I wish more urbanism advocates and armchair urban planners (of which I count myself one, much love!) would realize that a city that doesn’t welcome and provide for parents and children is never going to be a truly living city.

  • Over the course of raising three kids, we went through a number of strollers. Often, here in San Francisco, I was pushing two kids (baby in front, older tired kid wiling to ride scrunched in cargo area in back) in a stroller up the hill to our house. (Gosh, I was strong in those days!) Poor third child took a lot of naps in the stroller as we went out and about with the other two. I have to agree with Angus below that umbrella strollers were the most useful because they are so easy to fold and take up such little space in public environments. If I had to do my early child-rearing days over again, I would get a Bakfiet with an electric-assist and disc-brakes. That would be a blast. But even with this combo there would still be times I would want a stroller for little legs that just can’t walk miles, say through a science museum or an airport. (I also carried tired children miles. Being a mom can be a very physically-demanding job.)

    A huge number of SUV’s on the road are there because families with children believe they cannot live without one. Families need to be encouraged to take public transportation with discounted family fares and stroller-friendly policies and configurations. Public transportation needs to feel it is their *job* to transport small children as well as older children and adults. Otherwise families are stuck in cars, damaging the environment, causing congestion, and hurting us all. Stroller-share would be a nice amenity for any walking-intensive area/museum/tourist attraction that wishes families to visit. (Many theme parks already have them, though it’s called “stroller rental.”)

  • Anonymous

    In Denmark parents of babies often use gigantic boxy prams, like a small, high bed on four wheels. They’re amazingly huge, and people seem to take them on crowded trains and buses often. Maybe the Danes like kids more, or maybe they are just more relaxed, but people seem very accommodating and not put out by this.

  • Real New Yorker

    What the stroller-haters don’t seem to understand is that every single one of those stroller-pushing moms in the city is one less chauffer-mom shlepping around the suburbs in a gigantic SUV. The problem isn’t strollers. The problem is sidewalks that are too narrow and too much space allocated to cars. Take a look at the street around you the next time you start feeling hostile toward a stroller-mom. Who is hogging all of the space — the stroller on the narrow strip of sidewalk or the oversized motor vehicles on the too-wide stretch of asphalt?

  • SF Hllbilly

    We live on a hill in SF and only use our car when absolutely necessary.  With our son we used umbrella strollers only (and they sure are cheap!) because pushing a giant stroller up a hill made no sense.  Also easy to fold quickly and carry on a bus or cab.  When he reached the 4 to 5 age he started using a razor scooter. Once they get the hang of it, a scooter can extend the walking range of a child quite a bit.  Walking a few miles is tough on a little kid (their legs are small!) but a scooter can give them much more range, and like an umbrella stroller it’s easy to bring on a bus or a cab.

    I certainly agree that too much space and resources are devoted to cars.  And a stroller-share program would be great (although I do think the hygiene issue might be big….if you’ve ever lived through a lice outbreak in a pre-school you might be hesitant to share strollers).  But I think the real trick to living car-free (or “car-light”) is to travel light and get your kid as mobile as they can be on their own.  Of course with multiple kids it’s more of a challenge.

  • Matt

    Throw away the stroller and go to REI and purchase yourself a child backpack carrier. We had two for our two children. The second one we purchased a Deuter. It was great and much better than a stroller. I used the one for our now-seven year old until he was 5. Our daughter did not last as long. If you start your child (and yourself) in using one when they are small, the added weight over time is incremental. The Deuter is designed like a hiking backpack with a great waist strap that transfers the weight of the child to your hips and legs. Also, easy and quick to get on/off with a built in kick-stand.

  • Foo

    One word: MRSA

  • PC

    “But let’s be clear: For car-free, city-dwelling parents, strollers are a necessity — and sometimes even for bigger kids.”

    No, let’s be real: for car-free, city-dwelling parents just as for any other kinds of parents, strollers are often a choice–and “sport utility atrollers” are always a choice.

    How ironic that these apologia should appear on Streetsblog, where authors pride themselves on debunking what they perceive as the myth of cars being a necessity for urban parents!

  • PC

    …forgot to mention that my mom, who never drove a day in her life, managed to get my sister and me around town pretty well without using a Hummer-sized stroller. Including on the bus. Amaaaaazing but true, folks.

  • I’m not sure where some of the hostility is coming from.  Hardly anyone uses a stroller in a city longer than they have to.  It’s not for lack of imagination that people don’t switch. In a world awash with second-guessing, this is not a topic where it’s necessary.  Going around the area with two small kids and shopping can somewhat make you want to schlepp a stroller, but the inconvenience of it overrides even this Venn diagram event.   

    Double-wide strollers are a fact of life.  I’d much rather talk about reducing parking, and expanding sidewalks than waste time casting vitriol on the people doing more to limit suburban sprawl than miffed childless adults.  

  • We have only the one one-year-old, but the stroller share sounds like a fantastic idea. Count me in!

  • Noel

    Funny how sarcastic know-it-alls so often have no personal expertise. Your mother did not have the option of a luxury stroller. You don’t know that she wouldn’t have chosen a smoother ride with better storage space and maneuverability.

  • AndreL

    Don’t they have strollers with passive electric assist to help climb hills?

  • AndreL

    Not really comparable. Taking a bike on a train is not a need related to mobility impairment (toddlers and very young kids can be considered “impaired’ compared to adults). A stroller is needed to transport kids. Cyclists are obviously body-able and don’t need to take bike on trains.

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