Sunday, September 13, 2009

Unsafe Routes to School

I'm sure someday my children are going to roll their eyes when they hear me say this, but I really did walk uphill both ways to get to school. Every morning, rain or...well, this was friend, her little brother, and I would slither down the two wooded hills behind their house, hop puddles along the main thoroughfare, and then push our way up through another damp, brushy hillside before arriving--a mile later--at school. We were 10, and that 30-minute walk was one of the most fascinating parts of my day.

Apparently if I were to let my kids do that today I would be recklessly endangering their lives--and running the risk of criminal charges, as was the mother in this NY Times article describing current attitudes about walking to school. As the article explains, today's parents are reluctant to allow their children to walk to school (only about 13 percent of kids walk or bike to school on their own), due mainly to safety concerns. Rebellious parents who refuse to chauffer their offspring everywhere face serious social pressure from others who chide them for their thoughtless parenting.

Along with improving infrastructure along main school routes, improving parent attitudes is a major part of encouraing walking in the next generation. It's not enough to just cite the statistics (e.g. there were only 115 abductions by strangers in all of the US last year), schools need to actively engage parents and students in promoting walking and biking. Happily, programs like International Walk to School Day are making it easier for schools to do just that.

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