MORE WALK­ING, LESS DRIV­ING IS SAFER FOR KIDS

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

ONE OF THE PRIN­CI­PAL points of con­tact be­tween mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments and lo­cal schools in­volves park­ing and traf­fic con­ges­tion, par­tic­u­larly in the morn­ings.

Par­ents in­sist on driv­ing their chil­dren to school rather than let­ting them walk. Schools in­sist on lim­it­ing ac­cess times, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously fail­ing to pro­vide ad­e­quate off­street park­ing or drop-off spots. The mix fre­quently leaves mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments scram­bling to deal with safety and traf­fic con­cerns, of­ten in­volv­ing po­lice en­force­ment. That’s cer­tainly been an on­go­ing is­sue even in Wool­wich. Rules that re­strict to a brief pe­riod the ar­rival time of stu­dents lead to a con­cen­tra­tion of par­ents and kids – and their cars – con­verg­ing all at once. Lack of ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture at the school means the long lineup of cars spill over onto mu­nic­i­pal park­ing lots and streets.

But at a fun­da­men­tal level the prob­lem stems from par­ents driv­ing their kids to school in­stead of let­ting them walk, cy­cle, board or use other al­ter­na­tives, even when those choices would be faster, safer, bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment and for the health of their chil­dren. School of­fi­cials know this, which is why they en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion in pro­grams such as In­ter­na­tional Walk to School (IWALK) month. In Water­loo Re­gion, we have the Ac­tive and Safe Routes to School pro­gram.

The ben­e­fits are clear. We all know we need to in­crease daily phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, im­prove the safety of our com­mu­ni­ties, re­duce traf­fic con­ges­tion around schools, im­prove air qual­ity, re­duce green­house gas emis­sions, and cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties where peo­ple choose to walk. Know­ing is one thing. Putting it into ac­tion is an­other.

De­bates are on­go­ing about the ad­vis­abil­ity of par­ents driv­ing their chil­dren to school.

In­creas­ingly, stu­dents who aren’t bussed travel to and from school in their par­ents’ cars, rather than walk­ing or bi­cy­cling. While pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions may not have walked to school bare­foot in the snow, uphill both ways, kids did get there un­der their own steam much more fre­quently than is the case to­day.

Con­cerned about obe­sity and fall­ing fit­ness lev­els, au­thor­i­ties have been en­cour­ag­ing kids to wake, bike or blade to school. In Water­loo Re­gion, the pub­lic health depart­ment pro­motes the prac­tice, and plan­ners pay more at­ten­tion to safe school routes.

From an en­vi­ron­men­tal per­spec­tive, ev­ery car trip avoided re­sults in fewer green­house gas emis­sions. And keep­ing the car away from schools is also much safer: ac­ci­dent sta­tis­tics show school zones have be­come one of the most dan­ger­ous places in our com­mu­ni­ties. Fam­i­lies that would like to walk opt to take the car be­cause they don’t want to be­come an­other pedes­trian statis­tic.

We’ve be­come so de­pen­dent on driv­ing to school that the ‘school run’ ac­counts for 25 to 30 per cent of morn­ing rush hour trips.

In fact, it was a col­li­sion be­tween a young cy­clist and a car – not se­ri­ous, thank­fully – that prompted the lat­est round of en­force­ment by the town­ship, which stepped up its ef­forts to find a so­lu­tion, as ad­dressed this week by Wool­wich coun­cil­lors. The goal is to deal with con­ges­tion to in­crease the safety of kids going to and from school. But mea­sure taken to date have not been ef­fec­tive, in part be­cause some par­ents re­main un­co­op­er­a­tive, even heap­ing abuse on of­fi­cials at­tempt­ing to bring or­der to the drop-off area.

By mov­ing cars to a larger lot, the town­ship hopes to al­le­vi­ate some of the con­ges­tion, but it will re­ally take cooler heads and more foot power to make things bet­ter.

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