Thursday, February 07, 2008

Healthy ways to school

There's a wonderful debate going on about school transportation at ourmi.wikispaces.com, a community web site organized by new city council member Bruce Bassett.  Bruce and school board member John DeVleming discuss how and whether to promote getting kids to school via means other than cars, a debate that has additional new data to help understand the current situation.   A classroom survey at Lakeridge Elementary School last month indicated that on most mornings, here's how Mercer Island kids get to school:

Walked 16%
Biked 2%
Rode the bus 39%
Rode in a car 43%

Note that these numbers are subject to some interpretation, since we don't know how many of the car riders were actually car pools of several kids riding together.  And the kids who walk or biked are almost all from homes located adjacent to the school. 

I think John DeVleming wins this one, hands down.  How do "we" as a society (whatever that means), know that it's "better" for more kids to walk or bike to school?  Bruce says it's better because:

  1. Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions due in part to increasingly inactive lifestyles.
  2. An estimated 25% of morning traffic is parents driving their children to school.
  3. More cars on the street make neighborhoods seem less safe, discouraging walking and biking.
  4. Overcrowded school drop-off and pick-up areas bring pollution and traffic danger to the doorsteps of our schools.

The first argument doesn't apply to my family: my kids are not obese and they're not inactive.  I'm not an expert on other families or other communities (maybe Bruce is?) so other than some speculation and/or personal opinions, I don't know how to tell whether encouraging walking will help or hurt "society".

The second and third arguments don't apply to my family either, since I drive the kids to school on my way to work, so no gas or traffic would be saved by them taking the bus.

The fourth argument is one where smart school policies can really have a positive impact--and already do.  My elementary school has strict rules, enforced by volunteers each morning, to ensure exactly how cars may approach the school.  And of course general speed limits (strictly enforced by a visible police presence) keep the area around schools much safer.

Finally, let's imagine Bruce could get his dream situation enacted and a tree-lined footpath were created in my back yard, with happy, singing children dancing together on their way to school and back each day.  My kids probably still would end up with me.  Why?  Because we're in a hurry to get them to school and back again so they can go to their karate lessons, soccer games, and a host of other active lifestyle choices.  I walked to school when I was a kid (and my grandparents walked to work) because we were all much poorer, with no other options.  Thankfully, the world has progressed a long way since then.

1 comment:

Jack said...

Are you saying we should throw up our hands and give up on all attempts to make Mercer Island a better place? Bruce should be commended for proposing a positive, environmentally-friendly change. Maybe his proposal doesn't apply to you, but what about the rest of us?