Build It Properly For Isabella

People for Bikes and The Green Lane Project have introduced a new promotional tool—Build It For Isabella.


I think that as a promotional and messaging platform Isabella is a great idea. Isabella gets the basic point across in a good and simple way when we’re talking about what kind of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure we should have.


I have three concerns with Isabella though:

  • Isabella is 12 years old. That’s fine, but our bikeways should also be designed for 8 year olds, 80 year olds, and a lot of us in between. There is a vast difference in an 8 and 12 year old. A 12 year old can handle a much more complicated world than an 8 year old (or me). Our bikeway system needs to be simple and safe enough for everyone, not just a 12 year old. The Dutch have largely achieved this where it is clear where the bicycle path is and importantly, thanks to sharks teeth, who has right-of-way. Signs and directions are simple and understandable.
  • If our bikeways are built for Isabella, why does she need a helmet? I am not anti-helmet but I am against promoting the need for helmets, especially in this context where it implies that even after we’ve built it for Isabella that it will be so dangerous that she needs to wear a helmet. If we build it properly for Isabella then she should have no more need of a helmet than children in The Netherlands.
  • Our bikeways should also be built for those wanting to travel (safely) at higher speeds of 15-20 mph and they should be built for disabled folk using mobility scooters or handcycles. Bikeway design should allow for all of these folks and Isabella and her friends to safely share and pass when necessary.


The first two can be solved quite easily by making Isabella 8 or 9 years old and chucking the helmet.


On the last we need to always keep in mind and make sure that it is always abundantly clear to every traffic engineer, planner, politician, and others that our bikeways also need to work for Isabella the attorney riding fast in to work and Isabella the architect who writes for and uses a mobility scooter. In short, we need to stop trying to build triangular, square, and octagon wheels that have proven elsewhere not to work and adopt the Dutch CROW Manual for Bicycle Design that provides for a safe and robust system for all users.


Now let’s begin—Is the new bike lane on Marshall Avenue in St. Paul good enough for Isabella to ride to school by herself?

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN