Thursday, September 4, 2008

Do not let students who were hit walking to school stop you from walking or bicycling places...

Two students in Salem Oregon got hit yesterday in a crosswalk walking to school – on their first day of school. They were doing the right thing, crossing at a crosswalk designated for drivers to stop. http://www.statesmanjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080904/NEWS/809040342/1001

The driver did not stop. He was only cited for failing to stop at a crosswalk, not for hitting two children.

It was the first day back for students and perhaps drivers are not looking for students, but in general, it shows how we as an American society have a ways to go when it comes to people getting out and walking and bicycle riding places. It is such a rare thing in some communities that drivers do not think: Oh, crosswalk, beware of pedestrians.

Instead, drivers are in a hurry to make it to their next destination.

Part of the issue is that many people who drive frankly never walk or bicycle themselves so they just do not know what it is like out there. In suburbia where I live, it is harder to walk and bicycle anywhere. Sidewalks are missing or simply end. Bike lanes just stop as well.
Even in designated crosswalk areas, you are competing with cars to get across the street when the light blinks walk for you and is green for the cars.

What made me especially sad for the two Salem students hit by the car on their way to school, is their comment afterwards: “We are going to get a ride tomorrow to school. From now on.”
I do not blame them in a way, but really, instead, I wish more people would take up walking and bicycle riding to school – and to other places – so that it is not such an unusual site to see people walking. The more people that walk, the more others will watch out for them, the more cautious people will be.

I admire the yearly Walk To School Day, which encourages entire school communities to walk to school. http://www.walktoschool.org/
There is strength in numbers for sure. I organized a couple of these events for my children’s school at Cedar Oak Park in West Linn a few years ago, and we had a great time. It was fun to watch cars do a double take when they saw 100 students cross Highway 43.

And, one school district in Nevada is encouraging parents to walk their kids to school not just once a year but every day. http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2008/aug/28/district-asks-parents-park-walk-students-school/
Congestion around schools is incredibly stressful in many school districts, including this one in Nevada, which prompted this school to take action. The specific program is a first step in getting kids to walk to school; in this case, it has parents parking in a location away from the school then walking the rest of the way with their kids to school. Great start.

I would take it a step farther. Walk all the way to school with your child. Yes, it takes time, but the rewards are incredible. Fresh air. Exercise. Time with your child. Conversation.
Walking with your children – or bicycling with them – promotes exercise and togetherness, plus it saves the planet and gas money.

I find it quite interesting how school buses pick up kids who live so close to school. I think kids who live a half mile away from school should walk or bicycle. Also, school buses stop every third or fourth house sometimes in certain districts. My sister has told me about this in her district.

Let the kid walk to a neighbor’s house to catch the bus. Some districts, due to higher fuel prices are doing just this. California has eliminated school buses for thousands of children. Washington state and elsewhere are consolidating school bus stops. http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/08/20/walking.to.school.ap/

In Germany, kids always walk or ride their bicycles to school. There is no school bus and parents do not tend to drive. It is a whole different way of looking at transportation. In American suburbs, it will take time to get people to think about walking and bicycling places; it will take grass roots efforts.

I hope the situation in Salem will not hinder but instead encourage more students to walk or bicycle to school. Yet, as these students found out, even at a crosswalk, you still have to be careful. That is what I teach my kids as they begin to venture out on their own, walking or bicycling places. Even when you have the right-of-way, still watch out.

But do not give up. Instead, ask others to join you, including your parents.

4 comments:

wendy said...

At this time, I can't afford a bike and a Burley and a tagalong and all the stuff it would take to bike all 5 kids to the elementary school (it's too far to walk, but just right to ride, so we're saving up!)...at what age is it OK for kids to ride their bike to school alone? It makes me nervous. What do other parents do?

Hall Monitor said...

Check out the latest school bus stories on http://detentionslip.org if you want to know why walking to school isn't such a bad idea!

Cornelia Becker Seigneur said...

I think by 4th grade it would be okay, but will add that I think there is strength in numbers so perhaps there are others who could ride with them? Parents can ride with their children as another idea [if the child can ride alone]-

It is interesting to start a revolution: we started riding to soccer practice, I with my 5th grade twins and at the next practice my twins said two others from the team rode their bikes to practice!

it is good exercise- great conversation together. You model what is important...

Cornelia Becker Seigneur said...

I agree that walking to school is a good idea and getting kids/parents to walk together a great way to actually make it a reality...

parents need to model what is important if indeed walking/bicycling to school is important...

walk and bike to places instead of driving there [eg. to get a gallon of milk] is a great way to build exercise into your daily life -that is what I grew up doing in southeast Portland...my parents to this day ride and walk everywhere...my daughter now loves that lifestyle- after spending a summer in Germany...where they walk and bicycle everywhere...

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