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Using bicycles for organising everyday life

Encouraging families to cycle

Cycling children
Cycling children © Sabine Schulten
The mobility of families varies greatly and is characterised by complex trip chains. A common challenge is to make daily trips as efficient as possible and to combine them in order to maximise the remaining time that families spend together. Therefore, many families opt for a car. But there are other ways if the offer is right.


As a result of task sharing and the erosion of traditional gender roles, the definition of a family as a “married couple with children and clear division of responsibilities between husband and wife” has changed. Additionally, families of today are more diverse than ever: patchwork families, single parents, LGBT parenting – these are just a few examples. Mobility, everyday activities and time budgets play an important role for the organization and interplay of every kind of family. In this context, family mobility is characterized by a large range of obligations and work-related activities outside the home, which account for around two thirds of all trips.

Mobility patterns

How mobile are families and how do they realize mobility?


Parents are highly mobile – they make more trips per day than singles and couples without children of the same age group in particular. Single parents with on average 4.2 trips per day are most mobile, with parents in couple households making 3.7 trips per day. By way of comparison, couples of parenting age that do not have children make 3.2 trips per day. In the context of family mobility, two thirds of all trips cover obligations and work-related activities outside the home. This includes, for example, employment and training but also family and household work, which involves accompanying children and other relatives [BMVI 2015].

The transport choice of parents is unambiguous: 98% of all families in Germany own at least one passenger car (all households: 82%), and more than half of the family households have two or more passenger cars. Around 80% of all parents state that they have access to a passenger car at any time. Many people consider a car to be the solution for their trips, which change as their family grows, and for balancing the family’s mobility needs and their own professional needs. Nevertheless, despite this high availability of passenger cars, parents use other means of transport for one third of their trips: 20% walk, 9% cycle and 5% use public transport [MiD 2008].

INFORMATION BOX: Cycling during pregnancy and with a baby

Why do so many parents swap their bicycles for cars after their baby is born? What are the obstacles that obviously make cycling appear unattractive in this time of change? What possibilities exist to facilitate the use of bicycles for parents? And does it make sense for the promotion of cycling to address parents-to-be and new parents via prenatal classes and midwives? These and other questions are the subject of the National Cycling Plan project entitled “Promoting and strengthening the use of bicycles by new families after the birth of children”. The overall goal of the project is divided into three sub-objectives:

  • What inhibits new/future parents from cycling?
  • How can these obstacles be overcome?
  • How can the use of bicycles be promoted in cooperation with midwives and maternity hospitals?

Within the context of an online survey, pregnant women and parents of babies were interviewed on cycling to find out more about obstacles and needs regarding cycling during pregnancy and with a baby. Due to the number of completed questionnaires (around 650) and the recognisable high degree of bicycle-orientation, it was not possible to derive any representative data, but even among the bicycle-oriented participants a large number of obstacles and needs were mentioned that change their mobility behaviour during pregnancy and thereafter with a baby to the detriment of the bicycle. On the basis of these statements, measures for promoting cycling could be derived [Gering/Eberhardt 2017].

To overcome the reluctance to cycle with a baby, special cycling trial days have been introduced within the context of the project. During the action days, pregnant women and parents of babies can trial cargo bicycles and bicycle trailers for free. Test models for transporting one or two children are available to illustrate that cycling is also possible for the everyday mobility of families with more than one child.

Children and young people

When children and young people go out without adults, they mostly walk or cycle. The “walk to school” campaign, which has been run by the Kinderhilfswerk (German Children's Fund) and VCD Deutschland e.V. (German Transport Club) since 2009, examined this theory within the context of a survey and found that four out of five children prefer to go to school together with friends or siblings and do not want to be taken to school by car. Nowadays, however, children rarely travel on their own: they are accompanied by parents or grandparents during nearly all their trips. In 2000, only 17% of first-year schoolchildren went to school unaccompanied, while in 1970, 91% were unaccompanied. Depending on the children’s age, between 36% and 57% of the journeys to school were in their parents' car. The proportion of accompanied children decreases as the children grow older and is higher for girls than for boys. However, on the whole it is continuing to increase [Hänel 2012].

To motivate children and young people to cycle or walk, thereby encouraging them to adopt sustainable mobility patterns, the design of the walking and cycling infrastructure has to be adapted to the specific requirements of children and young people.

Family mobility by bicycle

The use of bicycles in total and in families varies greatly from city to city, but there are also differences between the rural regions. The “Family mobility in everyday life” study considers regions like the Emsland to be very bicycle-oriented, but at the same time, there are cities in other regions which are, as a result of a transport policy that has been oriented towards passenger cars for many years, considered to be less bicycle-friendly and therefore unsafe. But it is not only external factors that impact on the use of bicycles. For example, the distance regarded as being appropriate to be covered by bicycle also plays a role [Bauer et al. 2017].

Radfahrer mit Kind auf dem Kindersitz
Radfahrer mit Kind auf dem Kindersitz © Doris Reichel

How can bicycles satisfy the mobility requirements of families?

These aspects mean that families face major challenges when they want to adopt sustainable mobility patterns: How can my child get to school safely and afterwards to music school? How can major shopping expeditions be undertaken on a bicycle? Where can my high-quality cargo bicycle be parked? These are only three of the many questions that parents ask themselves, in particular against the background that the mobility of parents and children influences the amount of quality time that families can spend together. It is therefore of great importance for the promotion of sustainable family mobility that trips can be efficiently and safely combined. To promote this, the transport and settlement structure, which has so far been geared to a car-oriented society, as well as the public space in cities and rural regions should be transformed.

Network design and ensuring road safety

In addition to the already mentioned aspects, family-oriented cycling planning should also provide safe infrastructure and an area-wide cycling and walking network. To support children and young people in their independent mobility and to convince parents that their children do not have to make all their trips by car, this network should directly interlink relevant amenity and play areas. Moreover, it is important to interlink important origins and destinations – i.e. places where people work, shop and spend their leisure time – with each other as well as with residential neighbourhoods within this network. The walking and cycling network should also include comprehensible signage and ensure safe use during the day and the hours of darkness.

In short, the focus should be on

  • an area-wide safe network of footpaths and cycle tracks, divided into primary and secondary routes,
  • safe and as direct as possible routes between all relevant origins and destinations,
  • safe routing for cyclists at nodal points and
  • cycling and walking-friendly traffic light phasing.

Family-friendly walking and cycling planning must also take account of children cycling on footways.

  • Children under the age of 8 must cycle on footways and may be accompanied by adults,
  • Children are allowed to cycle on footways in both directions,
  • Children are allowed to cycle on all cycle tracks (physically separated as well as mandatory and advisory cycle lanes) from the age of 8, but do not have to do so until the age of 10.

Therefore, footways, crossings and visual axes have to be planned in such a manner that no children, accompanying persons or other road users are placed at risk.

INFORMATION BOX: Road user behaviour – skills for the safe use of roads

Hazard and safety awareness

From the age of 5-6 years:

Awareness of existing hazards

From the age of around 8 years:

Awareness of potential hazards

From the age of around 9-10 years:

Ability to take preventive action

Estimating distances and speeds

From the age of around 7 years:

Realistic estimation of distances

From the age of around 10 years:

Realistic estimation of speeds

Social skills

From the age of around 8 years:

Ability to empathize with other people

Attention and concentration

From the age of around 8 years:

Ability to concentrate for longer periods (e.g. during the journey to school), but easily distractable

From the age of around 14 years:

Ability to concentrate is fully developed

Road user behaviour: skills for the safe use of roads by means of transport


From the age of 8 years: “relatively safe”


From the age of 8 years: significant reduction in incorrect behaviour
From the age of 14 years: safe cycling
boy-specific tendency to take risks leads to increased likelihood of becoming involved in an accident

Using public transport:

Primary school children: ability to use public transport by themselves
From the age of 11-12 years: ability to make comprehensive use of public transport

[FGSV 2015]

Contrary to the subjective assumption of many parents, the largest number of children between 6 and 14 years involved in road accidents were not walking (23.2%) or cycling (33.3%), but were a passenger in a car (37.5%) [Stete/Schober 2016]

Promoting independent mobility

As described above, the independent mobility of children has significantly decreased. The concern for the safety of children in road traffic is one factor for parents to restrict the independent range of action of their children and an important reason for the high number of trips that parents make by car to drop off or pick up their children under ten years of age. This need to protect their children can be found in the most different shapes, in big cities due to social heterogeneity and crime, but also in rural areas, particularly with regard to major transport arteries and the speeds of passenger car traffic. However, the fact that road safety can only be acquired through practical experience is often ignored in this context. The earlier children are allowed onto the roads by themselves and learn to independently and safely find their way through road traffic, the better they will be able to be aware of risks and dangers and to assess these situations [Stete/Schober 2016].

Kinder alleine unterwegs
Kinder alleine unterwegs © Sebastian Bührmann

Throughout Germany, there are a number of different projects and campaigns that directly address schoolchildren and aim to promote independent and sustainable mobility. The VCD for example wants to use its “FahrRad! Fürs Klima auf Tour” (Bike for the Climate) youth campaign to motivate young people to make as many journeys to school and leisure trips as possible independently by bicycle. Local authorities can support this and similar initiatives by informing schools and non-educational institutions about such schemes and inviting them to join the campaign.

INFORMATION BOX: Safe routes to schools

Most road accidents take place during the journey to school or back home. To support families in their sustainable mobility, increasing safety for children travelling to and from school should be a central starting point for the measures.

The Hand primary school and the Hand catholic primary school in Bergisch Gladbach for example are tackling the morning parking chaos at schools from two different perspectives within the context of the pilot project entitled “Geh-Spaß statt Elterntaxi” (walking to school is more fun than your parents' car). The first objective is to optimize the traffic flow by taking infrastructure measures. To stagger the chaos in front of the schools, so-called pick-up and drop-off zones for parents were to be established at a distance of 300 to 400 meters. These zones should ideally be situated at places from which traffic can easily depart. The remainder of the route to school or after the end of lessons should ideally not be along major transport arteries and should be well lit. The second perspective of the project is mobility education. The mobility patterns of a child are in most cases influenced by the mobility behaviour practised by its parents. The parents act as role models in every respect, including the way in which they travel in everyday life. As a consequence, parents should start to demonstrate environmentally aware and sustainable travel behaviour to their children at an early stage. Directly after the drop-off and pick-up zones had started operation, the school implemented the “Verkehrszähmer” (traffic tamers) programme of the “Zukunftsnetz Mobilität NRW” (North Rhine-Westphalia future mobility network). As part of a reward system, the pupils collect “stars” for walking or cycling to school, using the bus or getting out of their parents' car in the drop-off zone.

Another important tool is the development of school travel plans for cycling and walking with the participation of children and young people. In 2011, the Ellental High School in Bietigheim-Bissingen established a “cycling to school plan” working group with the participation of pupils, parents, teachers and the school management. The aim was to encourage pupils to cycle and to create safe links between the school and the pupils’ homes. The basis of this cycling to school plan is a geoinformation system that can be accessed via the Internet. In this system, pupils can digitally record their daily cycling journeys to school and draw attention to problem spots along their route to school. The Federal Highway Research Institute (Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen, BASt) published a “school travel plans made easy” guide in 2012. Since the school year of 2016/2017, the Baden-Württemberg "Cycling to School" Travel Planer has enabled schoolchildren and parents to digitally record routes to school. Problematic spots can be marked and commented on. The findings inform the development of cycling to school travel plans and the local authority concerned can make danger spots more “forgiving”. This gives schoolchildren and their parents the opportunity to actively engage in the improvement of road safety. With the help of the “route to school check” app, children and young people can actively participate in the creation of city maps for children and school travel plans. Alongside deficiencies, users can also mark interesting locations in local communities. All entries are displayed on the project’s website. Interested users can print out their own school or leisure map, tailored to their individual requirements [Leven 2014].

Urban development, amenity value and residential environment

In suburban, rural areas, but also in periurban areas with less frequent public transport services, mobility in total and of families in particular is strongly characterized by cars. For this reason, conditions should be created that allow families – wherever they live – to optimally coordinate their mobility without a car and that enable children and young people to enjoy safe and independent mobility. A key element is the promotion of local mobility. In addition, a good educational and local amenity infrastructure is also of high importance to turn residential neighbourhoods into a living environment. To enable children and young people to freely develop, the amenity value of the residential environment as well as the existing supply of space for non-motorized traffic is essential.

In the city of Freiburg for example, the establishment of traffic-calmed areas creates an important possibility for improving the quality of the environment in residential neighbourhoods. Since the beginning of the 1980s, more and more traffic-calmed areas have been designated in new-build housing areas. In addition, the city has developed a specific strategy for existing streets in older residential areas. Upon request of the majority of the residents of existing residential streets, these streets are modified by cost-effective measures in such a way that they can also be designated traffic-calmed areas. This is done by, for instance, strips across the road, markings, bollards or staggered parking spots. Residents can find the course of action for transforming an existing residential street into a traffic-calmed area on the website of the garden and civil works department of the city of Freiburg.

Trailers, cargo bicycles and high-quality cycle parking facilities

How am I supposed to do my weekend shopping by bicycle? And if I buy an expensive cargo bicycle, where can I park it so that it is secure and sheltered? These questions have to be answered by many families that want to change their mobility taking into account sustainable aspects. In Copenhagen, for example, 28% of all families with two children own a cargo bicycle [Behrensen 2017]. The CycleLogistics project, which analysed 6,000 purchases at supermarkets and hardware stores, comes to the conclusion that 51% of all motorized transport operations in European cities could be shifted to bicycles, bicycle trailers or cargo bicycles. The greatest shift potential is inherent in private trips (69%). The cycling portal key topic “The (re)discovery of cargo bicycles. Alternatives to private and commercial cargo transport” provides a variety of information on cargo bikes, ranging from the different types to cargo bicycle sharing.

In cities such as Berlin, Munich, Hamburg or Cologne, families travelling by cargo bicycle have become a common sight. Since 1 January 2017, the city of Munich has followed Vienna and Oslo in providing financial assistance totalling 1,000 euros for the private purchase of e-cargo bicycles on the basis of the Electric Mobility Funding Guidelines. This financial incentive can enable local communities to support families in their sustainable mobility.

Großeinkauf mit dem Fahrrad
Großeinkauf mit dem Fahrrad © Jörg Thiemann-Linden

If a family decides to buy an expensive electric cargo bicycle, the question arises as to where a secure parking facility can be found. Many cities do not sufficiently provide secure parking facilities that are adequately spaced for cargo bicycles or bicycles with trailers – at important origins and destinations in the road environment as well as at residential buildings. The city of Potsdam addressed the issue of bicycle parking at residential buildings and commissioned – in close cooperation with the local housing company, ProPotsdam – a guide for the planning of bicycle parking facilities at residential buildings. The guide is addressed to housing companies and aims to demonstrate opportunities for integrating secure and user-friendly bicycle parking facilities for different tasks (new construction, refurbishing the existing building stock) and for different building and settlement types. But as mentioned before, sufficiently spaced parking facilities in the road environment are important as well. The city of Osnabrück, for example, has installed 32 bicycle parking stands in the city centre within the context of the “Mobile future” project, which, due to their enlarged spacing, are also suitable for the secure parking of cargo bicycles.

CHECKLIST: Planning a family-friendly cycling infrastructure

  • Family-friendly and child-oriented design of the road environment
  • Take account of children cycling on footways when planning cycling and walking traffic (keep visual axes free, design of crossings, etc.)
  • City-wide network of safe and high-quality cycle paths and footpaths
  • Speed limit of 30 km/h in built-up areas
  • Introduction of cross-family cooperation models, e.g. walking bus, cycling bus
  • Safe cycle facilities (with regard to the 2010 Recommendations for Cycling Facilities)
  • Financial incentives for private purchases of cargo bicycles
  • Installation of high-quality bicycle parking facilities – including for children’s bicycles and bicycles with trailers or cargo bicycles – in all municipal spaces, in particular at neuralgic points.

Summary and Outlook

Families can also be mobile without a car – but for this purpose it is necessary that a variety of factors be taken into account and interlinked by city and traffic planners. One of the most important aspects is to provide appropriately safe and reliable infrastructure that enables children and young people to be independently mobile. In this way, the positive experience gained in their childhood and youth can be decisive for the future sustainable mobility behaviour of children and young people. On the other hand, this enables parents to be assured that their children safely reach school, friends or just the playground.


[Bauer et al. 2017]
Bauer, Uta, Melanie Herget, Wilko Manz, Joachim Scheiner (2017)
[Behrensen 2017]
Behrensen, Arne (2017)
[BMVI 2015]
abgerufen am 22.09.2017; Bearb.: Uta Bauer, Melanie Herget, Wilko Manz, Joachim Scheiner
BMVI (2015) (Hrsg.)
[FGSV 2015]
abgerufen am 10.07.2017
Forschungsgesellschaft für Straßen- und Verkehrswesen (2015)
[Gering/Eberhardt 2017]
abgerufen am 31.08.2017
Gering, Anna, und Hannah Eberhardt (2017)
[Hänel 2012]
in: AKP, Fachzeitschrift für Alternative Kommunal Politik, 4/2012, S. 46-47
Hänel, Anja (2012)
[Leven 2014]
in: mobilogisch 3/2014, S. 43 f.
Leven, Jens (2014)
[MiD 2008]
infas Institut für angewandte Sozialwissenschaft; Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)
[Stete/Schober 2016]
in: Straßenverkehrstechnik, 8/2016, S. 509-516
Stete, Gisela, und Anna Schober (2016)
Meta Infos
SPT 10
Date (Text as of…)
6. November 2017
Sabine Schulten (Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik)
Handlungsfelder NRVP
Planning and developing a cycling strategy
Specific target groups
Mobility behaviour
Children / youths