February 03, 2004
WALKING TO SCHOOL....I've mentioned before my surprise at the
number of kids who seem to be driven to school in my neighborhood
despite the fact that it's a small and extremely safe place. Well, it
turns out that my anecdotal observation is correct: according to the
CDC, only 31% of children ages 5-15 who live within a mile of school walk or bike. That's down from 90% in 1969.
But I still can't figure out why. Why do parents ferry their kids around when there's no reason for it? What's the motivation?
I dunno, but apparently the CDC is on the case and considers this to be a serious issue. In fact, October 4-8 this year has been designated International Walk to School Week. It's amazing the things you learn with a bit of random Googling....
Posted by Kevin Drum at February 3, 2004 03:39 PM
Why do parents ferry their kids around when there's no reason for it?
Because media reports of abductions of kids off the street in
seemingly safe areas get lots of attention, and few want to take the
risk, however small, that it will be their child. In the age of Amber
Alerts the perception that child abductions are a much bigger problem than ever before is probably common, even if it isn't reality.
I wonder if it's the difference between "safety" and "perception of
safety". Kids also don't play in their front yards unsupervised as much
as they used to, and they are no more likely to be snatched as they were
40 years ago.
Do you live in one of those suburban areas where there are no
sidewalks? Apologies if this is a topic that you have covered before. As
a life-long urbanite I have always been bemused, when visiting my
cousins in the DC suburbs, at the sheer number of obstacles that modern
American suburban living throws up against doing anything on foot
(except, of course, when you get to the mall).
Wandering homeless/mental ill folk between our home and the school. Seems pretty clear.
Walking? Like every kid in my suburban neighborhood has a gas or
electric scooter to buzz around on, from age 8 up. They don't walk more
than two houses. Bikes are more rare. As an ardent cyclist I find
this fact offensive in so many ways.
My dad has a running joke. Each morning, while driving to work, he
sighs and laments "all the kids with broken legs" who can't walk or ride
their bikes to school.
My theory: The increase in traffic from parents shuttling their kids to
school in otherwise safe areas creates inherently unsafe conditions for
pedestrians and cyclists, compounding the problem.
I am certain that there is a link between skyrocketing childhood obesity
rates and the failure of parents to get their kids to exercise, whether
by driving them to school or by letting them watch TV, play video
games, etc. instead of doing physical activities outdoors.
In re both of the above, shame on the parents, at least here in Irvine.
(I won't presume to speak for other communities.) There really is no
need for this detrimental "protection" of children.
like cmdicely says: the media.
i watched 15 minutes of MSNBC today and saw that videotape of the girl being abducted probably 20 times.
i walked miles to school, in all weather. and i kinda liked it. being
driven was for kids who didn't want to stop by the woods and get high
or make out with their girlfriends before school. oops. i mean study more on the way...
Sadly, in my neighborhood, we have the dual problems of
exhibitionists and gang thugs. We even had a teacher raped on campus in
front of her students, so I can't say that a parent's concern about
security is unwarranted.
In our safe, suburban neighborhood, a few kids do walk to school
(including my own, even though a school bus stops less than a block from
our house). However, so many parents drive their kids to school it is
nearly impossible to drive anywhere close to one because there is so
much traffic. Moreover, a lot of parents that do put their kids on the
school bus still drive to the bus stop. Each bus stop usually has a
half dozen or so SUVs parked next to it.
It must be a tax-cutting, war-loving, right-wing Republican thing...
Well, let's see. If the kid is to bike to school, s/he's got to wear
a helmet, knee pads, leg pads, wrist pads, reflective vest, etc.
That's really not practical to bring to school every day; heck where do
you even put it all? Plus, have you seen the backpacks some kids have
these days? They've got like 30 pounds of books in their bookbags every
day. You can't expect them to carry all of that for a mile or so.
As a kid in the late 50s -early 60s, I, like ChrisL above, walked to
school, sometimes long distances--we moved a lot--and I used to ride my
bike WAY long distances. Well, for a kid; over 40 miles to the county
fairgrounds/swimmin' hole, there and back. I mean, I put a great many
miles on those Schwinns. Wore out a few. Today, though, I wouldn't get
on a bike if you paid me. Maybe it's just me, but the difference in the
traffic between those days and now is astonishing. I have come to the
conclusion that bicycles and cars just don't need to be sharing the same
roadways anymore, especially when you consider--and this is not to let
drivers off the hook--that the vast majority of cyclists have little or
no regard for the rules of the road, if they even know them. I know I
didn't, but the cars were a lot fewer and farther between back then.
Maybe the kids today agree.
Guilty. I drive my daughter to school on my way to work. It's our time where we talk and bond a little.
Some suburban schools have kids who are mostly driven because the
schools, which were planned with neighborhood/walking in mind, are now
in neighborhoods without schoolage kids. The districts have open
enrollment and the kids come from distances, and across busy streets,
that don't encourage walking. Many of these schools were planned in
neighborhoods that are now having serious traffic problems because of
the drivers and/or inadequate parking. Time will help some of this as
the neighborhoods turn over again with new families. Newer schools are
being planned to have access from arterial streets to alleviate the
traffic issues. Town planning 40 years ago did not anticipate driving
kids to school.
I drive my daughter to high school on the way to work. Some walking
would be good for her, but her backpack is very heavy, and it would be a
huge burden. When I went to school, we had way fewer books.
Al has a point about the amount of stuff they have. Schools often
don't have lockers now, so the kids have to drag around all their books,
Despite that, my son walks home from his middle school, though I drop
him off in the morning. Why do I do that? Because I enjoy having a
little more time with him, and not having to get up quite as early as I
I drop him off, then my daughter at high school (its in another
municipality, for gosh sakes, no possibility of walking there.) and then
I go to work. On the way, we glance through the morning newspaper and
talk about stuff. It's a time I cherish.
My son walks home in the afternooon, and my daughter takes the county
bus. As a rural kid, I took school buses until I had my own car,
In elementary school, they both took school buses, though the school
was about a mile away. There were some VERY major streets to cross on
the trip, so having them walk didn't seem a viable option.
Our neighborhood is pretty good, with few homeless or gangs, so no
worries on that score. My wife and I understand statistics, so the
kidnap threat is not a big factor.
When my husband and I were growing up, we each knew we had to be home
at dinnertime. What we did during our after school hours was not
subject to much scrutiny. Also, on Halloween we could be out on our own
ringing doorbells until the neighbors turned out their lights.
Now, because we are afraid of just about everything, we have to know
exactly where our children are all of the time. I live in a quiet,
affluent, suburban neighborhood and everyone keeps careful track of
their kids. On Halloween, parents are out in droves walking the streets
with the kids. Seems kinda sad to me. It used to be so much fun to be
One additional thought: Bush is trying his best to scare all of us to
death, and I think that he is making progress. Before long we will
look back on our days as care free, secure Americans with the same kind
of nostalgia that we now feel when we reflect on our own childhoods.
In my rural, nearly all white/GOP CA county my neighbor drives his
kids one house, less than 500', to a school bus pick-up. This was
formerly 4H country. Now kids play indoors or in their driveways and
seem exceedingly ignorant, fearful, boring, and over-weight. And the
last reported neighborhood crime occurred in 1887.
I suspect that a viewing of Bowling for Columbine might provide you with an answer to this question, Kevin.
America is a nation of fear. We have the sense that what we don't
know can kill us, and we're simultaneously defiantly proud of our
Most people have said this, but it bears repeating: Parent Paranoia.
They hear of child abductions to or from school, or of kids getting run
over in crosswalks (often by other parents) and go apeshit, refusing to
let their kids walk the short distances.
Of course, in other, newer suburbs, schools aren't actually all that close by the home, so driving does make some sense.
My experience is in Tustin in the '80s and '90s (i.e. not yet a
suburban hellhole like Irvine, but getting there). I used to walk fairly
regularly in kindergarten and first grade, but a number of abductions
in other parts of O.C. put an end to that. Neighborhood parents
organized carpools, and this went on into middle school, when we tried
(against our parents' strong discouragement) to ride bicycles to school.
Eventually most people just got rides from family members, until high
school, when you got your American birthright - a car of your own.
Also, I do think that the car culture of suburbs, and especially of
Southern California, plays a role. If you walk anywhere, you're seen as
either mentally deranged or of a suspect racial group. This isn't a
myth, it's what I heard parents and friends' parents saying not a decade
So it's lots of things. In the Bay Area kids walk to school more
often (experience is from Berkeley and SF). Here in Seattle there is a
very good bus system, which is the primary mode of getting to school,
perhaps the legacy of 30 years of busing.
Susan - the fear existed long before Bush became president. The 1990s
was an important solidifying moment but the elements were there dating
back to the 1970s. I think Bush definitely plays on people's fears, but
he's simply harvesting ripened fruit.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
has an entire section of their site dedicated to promoting walkable
communities. Check out the "Is Your Community Walkable?" and "How
Bikeable is Your Community?" quizzes.
If this issue is important to you, then find out if your community
has an organization dedicated to promoting walking and biking (mine does) and get involved!
I grew up in the 'burbs in the late 70's, and kids then rode their
bikes everywhere, at least until they got a drivers license. Kids today
seem to have a lot less freedom than we had then.
Another thing that seems to have fallen by the wayside is kids
engaging in relatively harmless vandalism like toilet papering the house
of somebody you liked or disliked. Throwing snowballs at cars. Ringing
the doorbell of a house, and then running away. Some might say this is a
good thing, but I think it's a damn shame.
Gotta justify those $40,000 SUV's somehow.
Not sure what it's like out in California, but the Washington Post
ran a lengthy article last month about the trials and tribulations of
pedestrians in the DC suburbs:
In the early part of the article, the author writes: " I can
remember when -- in a suburban Washington childhood in the '60s and '70s
-- walking was common, routine even. We walked to the shopping center,
walked to school. I can even remember walking on the Beltway in suburban
Maryland the night before the roadway opened.
"But somewhere between then and now, walking as an option in suburban
America seems to have virtually disappeared. The facts bear this out.
Between 1980 and today, the number of children walking to school has
fallen from 70 percent to less than 10 nationwide. Walking as a means of
getting from here to there is 36 times more dangerous than driving,
according to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a research and
advocacy group. Nationally, only 5 percent of all trips are made on
foot, but pedestrians account for more than 13 percent of all traffic
"Nationally, 78,000 pedestrians were struck and injured by cars in
2001, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration;
4,882 were killed. By the late '90s in Montgomery County, pedestrian
deaths were starting to outnumber homicides."
The CDC website makes the point for kids -- "Data from the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that one-fourth of children
between the ages of 5 and 9 who were killed in traffic crashes in 1998
were pedestrians." (click on the "improved pedestrian safety" link)
I live in DC itself and walk to the Metro every day. I don't have
kids, but if I did I don't think I'd let them walk here -- drivers are
either self-absorbed and inattentive or aggressive and impatient, and
the police and city government are at best indifferent. It's hard
enough for an adult to negotiate crosswalks obstructed by cars or to
watch out for the idiot turning right on red who never bothers to
actually look right while inching his/her way around the corner, but it
would be really difficult for a child.
As a parent who lives on the same street I did as a kid, I think I
can say that it's a combination of walking farther (the elementary
school I went to a long time ago, and about 5 years ago they opened a
new one close enough for the older kids to walk to but they only bus the
kindergarteners. I was _very_ uncomfortable with a 1st grader making
that walk, which included a busy street with 4-way stop signs and no
crossing guard. Then he transfered to a school that was far enough away
that walking wasn't an option.
Now, my son's in middle school, which is 2 blocks away, and he walks.
It was torture for me the first few days, until I felt more secure that
he had the street-savvy. Still, I wouldn't let a kid do the things I
did in this neighborhood when I was a kid. More cars, more gangs -- not
all of the extra danger is only in our parental minds :-/. And when it
comes to our children, few of us are willing to take chances.
As architect Andres Duany says modern cities are made to make cars
very happy. Cars compete with pedestrians for infrastructure, and the
cars usually win. Once you design a property with adequate ground-level
parking, you will have already achieved an environment hostile to
Parents demand adequate parking, then it follows that they already
created an unsafe for their kids unless they play taxi driver for them.
The fewer kids, the more unsafe it is for the next kid who would want
Get rid of the parking, then the rest will follow.
Editing errors :-)
"the elementary school I went to a long time ago," should have been
"the elementary school I went to was closed a long time ago."
I walked to school in the 50's and 60's, and I do not know why things
changed, but they did, and not for the better. I doubt things will
ever be like that again. It was nice while it lasted.
What everyone else said. I think fear of crime is number one. A
desire for separation and automnomy is two, but it's largely driven by
fear of crime. Why are Chicago and New York the only cities I know of
where the middle class rides the bus? The books thing isn't why kids get
driven; we buy rolling backpacks. (Ok, I drive my younger son, but he
commutes four miles with a double bass to a music school.)
I say lots of negative things about my years living in Israel, but
before the Al Aqsa violence broke out, kids in the 8-12 age range were
walking around independently (or in unchaperoned groups) and it was
I catch a ride to my school. The bus comes at 6:37 am, biking isn't a viable option with a 30-pound backpack and a viola in tow.
Walking takes approximately twenty-five minutes not allowing for
traffic, which is always in abundance due to ridiculously poor planning
and, paradoxically, all those parents driving their kids to school.
"Another thing that seems to have fallen by the wayside is kids
engaging in relatively harmless vandalism like toilet papering the house
of somebody you liked or disliked. Throwing snowballs at cars. Ringing
the doorbell of a house, and then running away. Some might say this is a
good thing, but I think it's a damn shame
I hear ya. Seems strange to wax nostalgiac over something like vandalism, tho, don't it?
I'm sure the Conservative Fantasy 50s of Pat Buchanan and his ilk never
really existed, but things really were a lot different back then. I
suppose in rural America there still remain a few more echoes of that
time, but overall we are really not in Kansas any more.
it is weird how it's changed, although I don't think it's 100% for
the worse. When I was 9-10 (25 years ago) I pretty much ran around
unsupervised, set fire to things, chucked through swamps with snakes,
came home with singed eyebrows and dirty clothes. Of course I was the
4th kid so maybe that helped distract my folks.
And yes I biked 2-3 miles each way to school, with a heavy backpack.
Simple. It takes forever to walk a mile with those short little legs
kids have. Hell it takes me between 12-15 minutes to jog one.
Although I confess I never lived closer than 2 miles to my school and sometimes as far as 5.
I am appalled at the number of SUV's double/triple parking in the street to drop off their little "precious" ones.
Apparently, you have to impress those you go to school with by what
kind of clothes you wear, where you go on vacation and what type of SUV
your mom (or Nanny) drives to your school with.
And, of course, most of these kids "roll" into school.....
I walked, even to kindergarten. The media has refined it's methods.
When I was young, the news didn't try to convince you that the weather
was going to kill you, your undercooked chicken was going to kill you,
etc. Capitalist-press, junk-food journalism.
But, what we're forgetting is that kids in lower class neighborhoods
do walk, even though the risks are higher to them. Rich white kids are
worth more, I think society is pretty clear on that score. Remember when
that white Morman girl disappeared - at the same time, two black girls
of the same age disappeared. Not a peep. Why? Black audience share is
not worth as much, and white audiences couldn't give a flip. Colombine
vs. a steady stream of murdered inner city kids. Orders of magnitude in
difference. We know who matters. Your value is determined by your money,
but the gadgets are cheap.
I think it's great that these suburban kids have parents that are willing to go to the trouble of driving them to school.
I grew up in Tokyo in the 80s, and I used to walk 15 minutes to the
subway stop and ride 45 minutes to school everyday by myself since the
age of 7. I had to change trains 3 times along the way as well.
This daily commute actually got more hazardous as I grew older...by
13 I was looking older than most 20 year old Japanese women and I was
accosted nearly daily by perverts on the trains. You really have to
experience it to believe it...everything from light fondling to full on
Anyway, my point was, I would have loved for my parents to drive me to school every morning.
I used to be carpooled to school (urban neighborhood), but I then
would walk home. I suspect it was a number of practical reasons, but
mostly a desire to remove the temptation to skip school entirely. My
parents knew I'll be there if they dropped me off in the morning. They
also knew I would make my way home in time for dinner, and usually well
I grew up in NW Ohio, almost 2 miles from school (both middle and
high). I would ride my bike or walk every day, even in single digit
temps during the winter*. That was a little before the "Stranger
Danger" hysteria of the mid-80s, but still...have abductions increased
that much? Aren't most abductions still by people the kids know, as
opposed to strangers?
* It was also uphill both ways, through 8 feet of snow. Okay, I'm
making that part up, but the rest is true. In fact, I'd often arrive to
school completely numb, which was really a neat feeling and didn't go
away until the end of home room...
For eleven years the kid across the street from us never was
permitted to leave his yard without his mother standing at the door. He
never was allowed to go into anyone's house for anything period. He
was being held prisoner by his parents who told me they were concerned
It is the media, Stupid. In a city of 2 million maybe 2 kids get
kidnapped by a stranger each year and everyone becomes paranoid because
of the wall to wall television coverage. My kids roamed at will the
neighborhood playing with all the prisoners. Sad.
As a kid I had a bike and thought nothing of going 15 miles or more to
swim in a river or play in a park. I grew up normal, just ask my
I go out for 2-3 miles runs most mornings. Mothers walking their
children 2 or 3 blocks to school and children cross the street when they
see me chugging along. At first it hurt my feelings then I realized
what they were thinking and felt sorry for them. I quit running
anywhere near a school because I did not want to get arrested.
I have to second uberman's point. If you live on a cul de sac in a
residential pod with no sidewalks, with a four lane road carrying 50mph
traffic, there aren't many places to walk to and the walk itself won't
If you want to read a great book about how the form of suburban
development shapes the behaviors of people who live there Suburban
Nation by Andres Duany & Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk is a great book.
Another author in this vein is James Howard Kunstler. He has several
books, among them The Geography of Nowhere and Home from Nowhere, as
well as a website: www.kunstler.com
This design issue intersects with the fear of crime. If more people
were out walking and more people were directly observant of what is
happening on their streets (rather than zipping by in their car) it
would be safer for everyone to walk.
We live in a faculty ghetto for a Big Ten school:
There are 3 registered sex offenders within 4 blocks.
There have been two confirmed stranger-abductions of elementary school-age girls in the past five years.
Guess what? We'll drive our kids to school, thank you very much.
They can get their exercise at swim team practice, tae kwon do, and soccer.
Andrew said: "I walked, even to kindergarten. The media has refined
it's methods. When I was young, the news didn't try to convince you that
the weather was going to kill you, your undercooked chicken was going
to kill you, etc. Capitalist-press, junk-food journalism."
When I was in kindergarten, they were teaching us to "duck and
cover." :-) We had it drilled into us not to talk to strangers. There
was fear, just different sorts.
Scratch that Prop 51. I'm not sure about that one yet. The others are great links though.
Around here -- the distant DC suburbs of Northern Virginia -- I often
see large SUVs waiting at the end of the driveway to pick their kids
up. These houses are mostly on 5- and 10-acre lots, so the kids would
otherwise have to walk several hundred yards up their own driveway to
get home. It probably burns a couple of dollars worth of gas to drive to
the end of your driveway, sit idling for several minutes, turn around,
and drive back. I can't imagine what reasons the parents have for doing
that; none of those suggested in previous comments seem to apply.
I walked to school alone, or with my sister, from the age of around 6
or 7. (This was during the 80s.) It was about a mile. I took the bus
for a while when I went to a school further away; then I cycled for a
couple of years. (3 miles, which I could do in 10 minutes... oh for that
sort of aerobic capacity now!)
Nowadays, throw in a smattering of deserved fear, a big dose of
paranoia, and urban planning based around the automobile, and it's just
too damn hard for lots of kids to do anything other than join the school
run or take the bus.
Kevin, The heck with kids who are no longer allowed to wander. What is up with your cats?
When I was growing up, our cat was the real roamer (neutered tho, of
course!). I remember my dad putting Tucker out before he went to bed,
and my mother feeding him first thing in the morning.
Now, my cat, Willoughby, is strictly indoors. If he were to get out, I would probably panic and put a frantic call into 911.
I worry every time I seen Inkblot and Jasmine lolling around in what
looks like leaves and other outdoorsy stuff. What kind of cat owner are
It's way too dangerous to let cats be cats anymore!
Susan, every time I take my cats to the vet for their shots, the vet
tells me that outdoor cats are at a big risk compared with cats who stay
indoors all the time. But I've talked this over with my cats and they
agree: while they're happy for me to keep them in if it's a fireworks
night or they're ill, they'd rather get to go run around outside in the
backyard, even if it is a risk. (They're 12 and 14 years old, and every
time the vet sees them he comments on how healthy they are: no one else
quite believes how old they are, because they act young and fit, and
they look healthy and glossy-coated.
We live within walking distance to both of the schools my children
attend (one 1st grader, one freshman). My older daughter has walked to
school nearly every day since we moved here 5 years ago.
My younger daughter usually gets ferried to school because my husband
and I both work, (I work 2 jobs), and we often don't have the 15
minutes it takes to walk in the morning. In nice weather, my husband
often walks her home, but when it's 10 degrees out, he'll pick her up in
This really bothers me.
My son is only 10 months old, so school is still a ways off.
Nonetheless, my wife and I are looking for a house, and we are
actively searching for a neighborhood in which kids play in one
another's yards. I don't know whether there are any such neighborhoods
here in LA, but we will look.
Also, I do not think that it is fair to blame all of this on the
media. Crime in general really has increased dramatically since the
1950's. Everyone I know over the age of 80 remembers the days when no
one locked their doors. And I am referring to people who lived in
Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, not the sticks. Fortunately, this
trend is reversing in most major cities. But it will be a while before
crime is at 1950's levels.
Heck, even the mafia violence of the 20's and 30's, which featured
automatic weapons and criminals who had no compunctions about killing
police officers, is nothign compared to the drug violence of today.
Have you ever seen a prison movie from the 30's? I saw one set in
Alcatraz a few months ago and it almost made me burst out in laughter.
During the opening credits, a voice-over was explaining how Alcatraz was
the toughest prision in the nation. The inmates were only the most
hardened of offenders. The voice-over then started listing the crimes
of which the inmates had been convicted: Armed robbery. Assault and
battery. Carrying a concealed weapon. Murder hardly made it onto the
list. Today, as we know, the offenses would be murder, murder, murder,
and serial murder.
I suspect that crimes against children have increased as well. Were
there pedophiles in the 1950's? Of course. But something tells me that
the rate of these offenses increased along with the crime rate. I
can't prove this, it is just a feeling. People in the 50's weren't
stupid, and they wanted to protect their children. People would have
done something about pedophilia if it had been a major problem. Sure,
people didn't talk about sexuality as much as they do today, but even in
the 50's everyone knew about the Black Dahila, the crime upon which In
Cold Blood was based, etc.
I don't know why crime increased, but it most certainly did, so the fear of pedophelia does seem to be justified.
Well, Willoughby is glossy coated too, but he's also big and FAT.
Every time his vet looks at him, he says he's a big, fat disgrace. But
his vet is also his owner, so Wills just yawns and waddles over to his
food bowl and yowls for more kibble. Due to the noise level and the
persistence, the vet aways gives in!
I think the main answers have to do with fear of crime and suburban
design that favors autos, but don't overlook school budget cuts as part
of the picture.
When I was a kid in suburban Portland, Oregon, I walked a few blocks
to my grade school. Had to cross a slightly busy street -- nothing for
an adult, but you'd hesitate to send your 1st grader across it alone.
The school put out crossing guards before/after school.
For the Jr / Sr high schools, they ran buses for all areas more than
3/4 mile from the front door, usually you'd have to walk a few blocks to
In the mid 80s, they dropped bus service.
In the early 90s, the elementary schools lost their crossing guards.
Not surprisingly, drive-to-school became more common.
Recently, the problem has been mitigated by yet more of Oregon's
budget cuts, in that by closing school altogether, there's no longer a
For the last 10 years I've lived in Boston, and virtually none of the
kids at the local school travel by car. The area is so dense they all
live within a short walk, and nowhere for parents to park while dropping
off or waiting to pick up.
If there are no school buses or crossing guards in Portland, Oregon,
this is the school district's fault. As much as many here would like to
blame everything on "school budget cuts" (obviously Republican budget
cuts at that), the fact remains that WE elect our state legislatures and
school districts. If we want crossing guards and buses, we should
The schools in my town still have crossing guards. There is no
immutable law of nature preventing Portland, or any other city, from
I strongly suspect that the cuts in Oregon's crossing guard budget
were not met by corresponding cuts in the budgets for, let's see here,
In my working/middle/rapidly becoming unaffordable neighborhood
across the bay from San Francisco, lots of children still walk to
school. They're all immigrant Chinese, or African-American (and a few
Hispanic). There is a certain amount of traffic at the local school in
the afternoons, with parents driving up to get their kids. But I've
noticed how many children actually walk, some of them unaccompanied by
an adult. And we even have a few crossing guards! But not on the busy
avenue 3 blocks away.
Of course, the test scores at the school are such that I'm going to
try my darndest to get my kids in to a better public school up a steep
hill, almost a mile away. *If* I manage this, I've been duelling with
myself about whether we walk it. It's some hill. But I want more
exercise! And it used to be so good to walk to school! etc. But I
wouldn't send a kindergartener or even first grader up there alone.
I, too walked all over the place as a child in the 70s. Walked into
inner city neighborhoods, too, and nobody ever told me not to. (Until
some guy grabbed at me and I decided it was too scary). It was just a
Yes, I too walked a mile to school over busy streets at age 7 in the
early 70s. And now I drive my 8 year old a half a mile to school over
I also was allowed to run around the neighborhood at age 5, and my 10
year old just now is allowed to go to the corner 7-11 by herself.
Fear? Yes. Of abduction? Partly? Of incompetent drivers too high
up in their SUVs and so intent on their cell phones that they don't see a
4 foot kid crossing the street? Mostly.
I don't know if drivers were better or worse in 1970 ... but I do
know they really suck now in the bay area. The recent immigrants are on
average the worst in terms of: flying down residential streets; not
seeing pedestrians or other cars; and not understanding local laws like 4
way stops or keeping their own kids buckled up. A friend tells me that
in China when a car moves it is the responsibility of the pedestrians
and bikes to get out of the way. I think some of the locals drive like
the same law applies here.
"5- and 10-acre lots, so the kids would otherwise have to walk several hundred yards up their own driveway to get home"
Sorry, but my agriculturally-fanatic family pounded it into me
growing up: An acre is 4,840 square yards, which works out to ~70 yards
per side. if a 10-acre lot was sqaure it would be 48,400 square yards,
which works out to ~220 yards per side. So, if the house was on one
edge and the end of the driveway was on the far edge, the kid would only
walk a couple hundred yards. I used to do more than that just to go
play with my cousin who lived next door (I grew up in the fucking
boonies, so I never had a neighbor less than ~500 feet from my house,
and often quite a bit farther).
More likely, the kid would walk ~100 yards, since the house would be
more or less on-center. The only scenario to get several hundred yards
would be if the lot was one acre wide and 10 acres deep, with the house
at the far end (~700 yards).
I had friends who not only walked to elementary and middle school,
but even walked home at lunch, then walked back for the next class
Kindergarten: 1956, University of Maryland. I don't remember how I
got back & forth. Various mom's cars, I think. I remember helmets
& toy guns.
Elementary school, 1957-1961. It was only 3/4 mile away and we walked. College Park, Maryland.
El Morro, Thurston, Laguna Beach High School: 1961-68: buses all the
way. Two miles to high school, 1000' elevation. A long walk home,
On the rare occasion that I had to prevail on my mother to get me to
school on time, she scared the shit out of me with her aggressive
driving. I'm getting my own back at her now, trip after trip as she
grabs at the straps in my car.
As a parent of children who fall within this nonwalking cohort I can offer several reasons:
1. With very early school start times, my children would have to
wake up 15 precious minutes earlier. They get too little sleep as it
2. The 30 pound backpack. Text books have become heavier, homework
requires the text books be brought home every night, and this makes for a
load my kids can't reasonably carry the mile or so from school.
3. Weather in the DC area is very bad most of the school year. It
has been extremely cold and frequently icy since around Thanksgiving.
It is dangerous or very uncomfortable to walk in such conditions.
I seem to remember an article in some periodical whose thesis was
that our current crop of parents has (my words) put their children on a
very high pedestal and are inordinately over protective. I believe that
the writer was lamenting the loss of an outgoing and adventuresome
spirit that used to be a part of childhood. If some one remembers such
an article or two, let me know.
Is it really so complicated? People are lazy now, even kids... plain and simple.
It's the child abduction hysterio of the 1980s.
Some groups were claiming that 80,000 kids were abducted every year, which is more than all Viet Nam Deaths.
It turned out that they counted every time a complaint was filed
against a parent returned kids late from visitation, every kid lost for
an hour at the mall, parental custody dispute kidnapping, etc.
The actual number of the really scary kind of abductions is less than 500/year.
Your child is at more risk from lightning strikes if you sign him up for Golf.
Here's a good article on one reason why there are fewer kids walking to schools these days:
Why Johnny and Jana Can't Walk to School - by Jay Walljasper
..."Communities are abandoning historic neighborhood schools that
students can walk to in favor of new schools the size of shopping malls
built in far-flung locations," writes Edward T. McMahon, director of the
American Greenways Program, in a dispatch for the Elm Street Writers
Group, an online news service covering environmental and community
issues (www.mlui.org). "Schools serve as community anchors," McMahon
notes. Many events, from Little League games to fitness classes to
public meetings, happen after-hours at the local school. The fact that
many of these threatened schools are in inner-city neighborhoods or
struggling small towns means that their closing cuts deep into the heart
of places that already have been battered.
Alarmed by what's happening all across the country, the National
Trust for Historic Preservation included neighborhood schools in its
2000 list of America's Most Endangered Historic Places. But this is a
bigger issue than simply architectural heritage. Communities that have
lost their school feel different without kids laughing and clowning
along the sidewalks. It's more difficult for parents (especially
low-income families) to participate in activities at distant schools,
and they must shoulder more responsibility for chauffeuring their kids
home from after-school programs.
Bigger, far-flung schools add to the already rising costs of
education. A study in Maine found that while school enrollment in the
state dropped by 27,000 between 1970 and 1995, the annual costs for
busing jumped from $8.7 million to $54 million, due in large part to the
consolidation of local schools.
The trend toward larger, out-of-the-way schools defies a tide of
recent evidence showing that small schools serve students better than
large ones do (see Utne Reader, Jan./Feb. 2001, p. 26). Kathleen Cotton,
an educational research specialist at the Northwest Regional
Educational Laboratory in Portland, Oregon, notes that "a large body of
research in the affective and social realms [of child development]
overwhelmingly affirms the superiority of small schools."
"Although it is often assumed that large schools are cheaper to
operate and provide richer curricula than small schools," Cotton is
quoted in Planning Commissioners Journal (Summer 2000), "studies show
that neither of these things [is] necessarily true." ...
My kids took the bus all through elementary school. We didn't let
them walk (about 1 mile) because (1) the route by road had very narrow
sidewalks and heavy traffic, and (2) the more direct route by bicycle
path and through several parks raised the possibility of encounters with
unknown adults (fear of crime) and there was no crossing guard for the
one major intersection (which had no stoplight and a very wide road
right-of-way. Now that they are in middle school, they walk about a
mile each way but in a group of three. Most of the route is along quiet
residential streets, but the last quarter mile is along a busy
four-lane road with the need to cross exit ramps (next to the overpass)
of an even busier 6 lane road.
I would love to see a study regarding this generation's parenting
skills and how they affect the current crop of kids' self-sufficiency,
independence, and sense of responsibility. If there is a more
child-centered culture, I'd like to know where it is.
What happens when a generation of coddled, over-protected,
center-of-the-universe children takes over as adults? Could this be the
root of the tax-cuts-for-me and screw the economy mindset? There seems
to be a decrease in personal responsibility that plays itself out
insidiously in so many ways and I often wonder if it doesn't all stem
from Americans' recent fascination with child-worship.
I'd also like to point out that some school districts do not *permit*
parents to let their children walk to school. They must take the bus
or be driven. They're afraid of being held liable if something happens
to a child walking off the grounds.
"Most people have said this, but it bears repeating: Parent Paranoia. "
Maybe someone else has asked this question, but here goes: Why don't the Paranoid Parents walk their kids to school?
Even with crossing guards, there is a major street that my kids will
have to cross to get to their elementary school and that seems like a
lot to ask a 5 year old. when my kids are 8 and up, I fully expect them
to walk to school. Until then, I hope my wife or myself will be able to walk with them.
Crime in general really has increased dramatically since the 1950's.
True, although mostly in property crime. (Sex crimes statistics have
increased, but there is probably room for considerable debate over how
much that is do to social factors encouraging reporting).
The voice-over then started listing the crimes of which
the inmates had been convicted: Armed robbery. Assault and battery.
Carrying a concealed weapon. Murder hardly made it onto the list. Today,
as we know, the offenses would be murder, murder, murder, and serial
Actually, the murder rate in 1997 (6.8 per 100,000) wasn't a lot more
than it was in 1960 (5.1 per 100,000). As a proportion of all crime, it
was much smaller (5.1:1887.2 in 1960, 6.8:4922.7 in 1997). Probably
"drug trafficking" would be the main source of today's "Alcatraz"
Cmdicely, that is interesting. I suspect that the increase in
property crimes, with the corresponding increase in locked doors, etc.,
has led people to be more frightful of crime in general.
This has changed the fabric of society itself. Residents of large
urban areas who remember the days when they used to leave their doors
unlocked now have to lock their doors.
Also, I wonder how much television has contributed to this? It is
very rare for a person to be a firsthand witness to a crime, or even a
serious accident. I have only witnessed one car chase firshand, and
have never seen an armed robbery, a murder, a child abduction, or
anything like that. If all I had to go on was first-hand experience,
I'd feel that crime is pretty rare.
But you can turn on the local news on any given day and see murder,
kidnapping, assault, etc. It's right there before your eyes. I suspect
that this does make people fearful.
Sure, they had ratios back in the 50's, and newspapers too, but the
visual impact of SEEING that poor girl get taken by that psychopath has
got to be more profound than hearing about it on a radio newscast.
"The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."
Relevant here, relevant in the War on Terrorism, and relevant to the Bush White House in multiple ways.
Time for a good 'ol revival, because when you look at it this way,
Democrats are braver than Republicans across the board. We've forgotten
cmdicely, the increase you note, from 5.1 to 6.8, is in excess of
30%, which is a non-trivial amount, although I do think that people
overestimate their risk. If our society would concentrate on
incarcerating violent criminals for extremely long periods upon the
first offense, however, and not waste jail space on less dangerous
people, I think fear would subside. The very fact there are sex offender
registries indicates misplaced priorities. If sex offender registries
were entirely comprised of people in their 80s, I think people would be
I'm in an older suburban neighborhood (narrow streets, no sidewalks)
three long blocks from the middle school my daughter will be attending
next year. Last year there was an attempt to kidnap one of the middle
school students off the street as he walked to school -- it was one of
our friendly neighborhood registered sex offenders, who was quickly
identified and arrested. My husband and I have already discussed letting
the kiddo walk to school; she'll walk if she can do so in a group.
Fortunately, there's some kids her age down the block that she's friends
with, so it looks like she'll have walking buddies. (If they walk; we
haven't checked with their parents yet.)
She buses to her current school, but she has band before school three
days a week, so my husband drops her off. And she has band after school
two days a week, so he picks her up. I think she could take the
activity bus to get home from after-school band, but that'd get her home
about an hour later, and she's pressed enough for time (in the fifth
grade!) as it is.
Kevin, is your neighborhood safe for pedestrians? Many aren't.
Overblown fears of abduction aside, many parents are simply reponding to
the practical fact that it isn't safe for anyone to try to walk through
the modern American suburb.
This recent article by Mary Battiata of the Washington Post
highlights how dangerous it is for pedestrians -- of any age -- to make
their way through the suburbs.
Like everyone over 50 I walked or biked to school until I got a car
in senior year of high school. But we didn't have to carry those
backpacks! I tried to keep bicycling (live in LA) after college but I
gave up after 2 or 3 months because it was too dangerous. I don't mean
because car drivers couldn't see me; I mean because they actively tried
to hit me, sideswipe me, run me off the road -- and this was in Santa
Monica, home of the Westside Liberal until SUVs got so popular, now home
of the Gas-Guzzling Jerk. Do I wish things were still like in the 50s
when I was a kid? Hell, no! For all the nostalgia about safe
neighborhoods, what I primarily remember about the 50s was
anti-Communist paranoia, being told to keep my IQ to myself so boys
wouldn't hate me, and intrusive, snooping neighbors gossiping about
everyone who wasn't exactly like them.
What a great life we're making! Kids need to wear helmets when
they're not strapped in a car seat, but they can't have lockers at
school because somebody might store drugs in their locker. Of course,
the same anti-drug laws create a black market to support gang activity,
and make it possible for the police to ignore the career criminals who
will go through your lock like a hot knife through butter.
In America fear trumps all, so none of this is likely to change
anytime soon. The real question is, why do we pay for buses to pick up
children who wait for the bus in mom's SUV? Why not just have the
child's chauffeur take them directly to school?
Presumably this will be solved by "better" drug testing that makes it
impossible to hire drivers for school buses. Other nations will not be
surprised by the final demise of the "crypto-human land whales" of the
I am 38 and grew up in the Pittsburgh suburbs. I went to a small
Catholic school about a mile off of our hill. My Mom would drop us off
but we would walk home, (including dreaded Cable Avenue which was like
Mt. Everest to six year old legs)
We were briefed about talking to strangers, not accepting rides etc.
and we grew up alright. We always walked in pairs at least and we were
A friend of mine, who lived in a somewhat nicer neighborhood talks
about how most of them got off the bus and then had between and eighth
of a mile to a mile walk.
ON rainy days a few of the parents would pick up their kids a the bus
stop. Get this! Those kids were then mocked and ridiculed as babies by
their walkign peers. In fact Tim and his sister told their parents not
to pick them up!
Can you imagine the scene today? SUVS and Chevy Blazers would be
lined up if there was a cloud in the sky, and my friend's parents would
have undoubtedbly been charged with child abuse
Will one of the moonbats here please explain what this topic has to do with SUVs and the President of the U.S.? Thanks.
Sorry to get back on topic, but like others, in the 60's & 70's I
walked and biked to school, and yes, it really was uphill on the way
Currently, my two elementary school children walk a half mile to
school just about every day. Usually its a family affair with mom, dad
and even the dog along. Fortunately in Northern Cal our weather is
almost ideal such that its rarely too wet and our "freezing" mornings
amount to 45F such that we can do this year-round. Its a nice way to
start the day, and from my perspective, even if I manage nothing else in
the day, I've gotten a mile's walk in.
There is a Middle School in the area as well so most mornings there
are a fair number of parents and children walking and biking. And really
the "critical mass" idea works in the respect of the two primary
concerns: abduction (most likely overdone by media, but real
nonetheless) and traffic (underrecognized, but more of a risk factor,
and sadly, many of the culprits are other parents). Namely, that the
more people that are out walking and biking, safety should be improved
in respect to both of the above concerns.
Each year our school participates in the annual Walk to School day.
We have a great turnout. Yet, many people can only seem to manage to
walk or bike in this one day of the entire school year. Go figure.
Regarding heavy loads, yes, some mornings the backpacks seem extra
heavy with books and lunches. Twice a week we carry musical instruments
as well. The 30-lb figure has been tossed around, does anyone know for
sure? If one considers that an able 160-lb adult backpacker can carry a
40 lb pack for hours and miles in a day, it doesn't seem unreasonable
for an 80 lb child to carry a 20 lb load for a 15 min walk.
Funny thing is, for a nation that can put men on the moon, land
sophisticated spacecraft on Mars, and has capabilities unmatched by any
other nation the planet has ever known, that so few people seem able to
walk a few blocks.
Due to budget cuts in our school district, they won't bus any kids
that live within 2 miles of school. That is much too far for an
elementary schooler to walk. It would also involve crossing some major
streets and an interstate highway.
Now that the residents of our small suburban city have passed a school
levy, there will be more kids on buses and less in their parent's "evil"
San Jose Unified School District just voted to close two more
elementary schools due to budget shortfalls. Of the twelve elementary
schools owned by the District, now six will be leased to private
schools. Each of the twelve schools is situated so that, as originally
planned, students walking to school would not have to cross any major
roads. As a result of the school closures, there are no more
"neighborhood schools," and children are forced to cross one or more
busy roads, thus increasing (1) vehicle traffic, (2) the risk of vehicle
accidents, and (3) the incentive for parents to drive their children to
schools, resulting in bad health habits. Unfortunately, school
districts are currently not held accountable for creating any of these
traffic and health problems when they lease their facilities to private
schools, so there is no incentive for them to refrain from closing
schools when money is tight.
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