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Stroller-friendly cities

Transit policies can lead parents on a wild ride, depending on where they live.

When TOC Kids art director Stephanie Gladney wrote a blog post last fall about a CTA bus driver intentionally driving past her and her infant son upon seeing they had a stroller, it sparked a lot of discussion online—and in our office. (CTA policy maintains that parents must fold strollers on buses and trains during rush hour, though operators may ask them to wait if the vehicle is too full. It says it recently gave employees a refresher course on the policy.) Gladney’s experience got us wondering how the CTA stacks up against transit systems in other large cities.

Around the world, from Chicago and New York to Paris and Vancouver, stroller policies have sparked controversy among public transit riders (who claim obstruction) and transit-riding parents (who say managing a squirming tot without a stroller is near impossible).

A 2011 article by Parenting.com posted on its Facebook page asking whether strollers should be banned from crowded spaces drew thousands of pro and con responses. That same year, Boston parents went bonkers when rumor spread of their transit authority’s plan to make a ban a reality. (It never acted, perhaps because parents said it bordered on discriminatory.) The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, reported that an Ontario dad filed a human-rights complaint after he was kicked off a bus because of the size of his twin stroller.

In “Strollers, Carts, and Other Large Items on Buses and Trains: A Synthesis of Transit Practice”—a 2011 report sponsored by the nonprofit Transit Cooperative Research Program—writers Joey Goldman and Gail Murray noted that Scandinavian cities in particular are especially stroller-friendly. Oslo removed poles in its trains to make rooms for twin strollers. In Copenhagen, trains have areas designated for bikes and carriages, and buses allow unfolded strollers—many of which are even larger than the ones popular in the United States. And according to the website for SL, Stockholm’s mass transit system, “one passenger per baby carriage is allowed to board through the exit doors free of charge. This is allowed even if the child is not in the baby carriage when boarding. In this way the child is not left unattended.”

But here in Chicago, riding public transportation isn’t necessarily a family-friendly activity—and many riders prefer it that way.

“We receive a lot of complaints from people concerned about open strollers and space on buses,” says CTA spokeswoman Tammy Chase. Chase, a mother herself, says she understands how difficult traveling can be for toddler-carrying parents. But she also points out that strollers have gone from small to gargantuan. “We have to adhere to federal laws concerning seniors and people with disabilities, but we certainly understand it’s not easy.”

Still, if a city like Copenhagen (population: 1.2 million) or Stockholm (population: 2.1 million)—where one-third of the population takes public transportation every day, according to a city statistic—can make stroller accommodations, what’s stopping cities like Chicago from doing the same? The solution, even a European one, isn’t so simple, says Chase.

“There’s only so much space. We can’t make the trains wider, we can’t make the buses wider. We try to accommodate as many passengers as we can,” she says. “There’s absolutely no ban on strollers, we’re not discouraging strollers. We’re just asking parents to use as small a stroller as possible because space is limited.” In other words, can’t we all just get along?