A Year In Mill Valley

Why Don’t Kids Walk To School Anymore? Part 1


Nathaniel is in 3rd grade this year, and I’ve been riding with him to school in the mornings. Our commute is just a little bit safer because Marin County upgraded a crosswalk near our house. But the process of making that happen got me to thinking about why more kids don’t walk to school, and whether there’s anything I can do about it.

The problem is particularly acute at Nathaniel’s school where there’s one narrow road in and out of campus, the curb in front of the school is crowded, and the number of people who insist on driving right up the door is large (80% or more would be my guess).

When I was in 3rd grade we lived on the last street in north Chicago. (My father had been brought to Chicago by O.W. Wilson to be the Budget Director for the Chicago Police Department in the wake of the Summerdale scandals in 1960, and as such he had to live inside the city limits…but I digress). The street was a dead end, and I vividly remember getting to Wildwood Elementary School by cutting through two yards, then walking several blocks to the school. (Part of the reason it’s so vivid is that I remember getting picked on by one of the 5th grade crossing guards for a while).

The distance wasn’t far — just 1/2 a mile or so — but I’m pretty sure I walked to school every day, rain or shine, warm or cold, sleet or snow. The idea that I would be driven to school wasn’t an option. Why was that? What’s different about today?

I think there are at least five issues at Nathaniel’s school:

1) No local schools. One of the things the Mill Valley School District does not guarantee is that your child will attend the school closest to you. Anyone can request attendance at any school, and there appears to be no mechanism for prioritizing proximity to the school. (Reminder to self to write an entry about how to deal with the Mill Valley School District waiting list…)

2) There are more cars today…and they’re bigger, a lot bigger. We had a Falcon station wagon when I was in 3rd grade, and it was smaller than just about anything on the road today…especially the Land Rovers, Blazers, Tahoes and other behemoths that are used to ferry children to Nathaniel’s school.

3) People use their cars more. There are more activities after school. There are more dual income parents who need to drive to work. There are more divorced parents, and fewer Moms at home who can get the child ready for school without rushing, or available to walk to school with their children.

4) The sidewalks are narrow, the streets are narrow, most sidewalks have no curbs, and parking is allowed on both sides of most streets at all times. This means that walking is less safe…at corners (can’t see around the cars parked at the corners), and on the sidewalks.

5) There are no student crossing guards. When I was in elementary school the cool 5th graders got to be student crossing guards (someone reminded me today that they used to be called the safety patrol). They had an orange belt that went across their chest and around their waist, and they’d get to their designated corner about 20 minutes before the first bell, helping the smaller kids to cross the streets.

Ok, that’s enough about the problems, tomorrow I’ll write up some thoughts about possible solutions.

No comments

No comments yet. Be the first.

Leave a reply

In an effort to control spam, please fill in the result of the equation below