Last night I went to a talk by Eva Heinen titled "Why, where and how people travel" and that got me thinking about the balance between walking and cycling, though that was not something covered in the talk. (The talk focused on cycling, since it was a CyclOx event, and gave an overview of academic attempts to formalise our understanding of transport choices.)
One solution to Helen getting too big for our child bike seats may be to just walk instead. She did the 2km to nursery this morning in under 24 minutes, even with a quick stop for blackberries, so I barely slowed from my normal pace; and she'll now do that kind of distance quite happily. It's only a bit further (2.6km) to get to Carfax or (going the other way) to the Lye Valley. (The latter would be much closer if I can find the track across the golf course from the Cowley Marsh playground to Lye Valley - we looked for that the last time we went there, but the track appeared to terminate in a brand-new fence. I couldn't explore properly with Helen in tow, does anyone know this route?)
Alternatively, once she's ok on her own bike, we could do cycle-and-walk - cycling on back streets to James St, for example, and then walking into town from there. I passed a parent shepherding a ?4yo on their own bike down Hurst St yesterday, and that seemed manageable. (There's enough room for a bit of wobbling not to be a problem and for other cyclists to dodge around, and motor traffic is low enough volume, and slow enough, that cars can just be forced to stop until there's a safe pullover.)
But the real drawback to walking is time: after-school playdates with friends are going to be a lot less feasible if they involve walking to Headington or the Lye Valley instead of cycling, and who wants an hour's walk from the railway station when they get home from a day out in London? (And yes, buses are an option, though more convenient for some destinations (the station) than others (Lye Valley).)
In any event, I can now empathise more with those potential cyclists who are, because they are less confident or less fit themselves, in a similar situation to me with a 4yo. Looking back at the slide on that from last night's talk, this is the 50% of the population who might cycle if it wasn't so off-putting (along with the 35% who will never cycle and the 15% confident enough to cycle now).
Giving these people the option of cycling instead of walking will do nothing for active travel levels (though cycling is apparently much better for health than walking), but it would give them a real gain in time (apparently the economic case for HS2 rests on huge savings from reducing City bankers' commute times). And allowing people to shift from buses to bicycles will do nothing for sustainable transport but would improve both their health and their finances. (I could pay all the bus fares I've paid in seven years in Oxford out of rounding errors, but people who don't cycle might be facing £500 for an annual bus pass, which is, or would be, a real hit to some people's finances.)
Also, the studies mentioned in the talk mostly only addressed commuting, presumably because that's where the best data are. But commuting is a small fraction of potential cycling, and everyday cycling is potentially more important. (Many of our nursery trips are built into our commutes, but once school starts almost none of our cycling with Helen will qualify as commuting.) So I think we should emphasize non-commuting trips. We want cycling to be the obvious first choice for anyone wanting to visit a friend across town, or to take a five year old from East Oxford or Botley to one of the museums.