Cars vs. Pedestrians: School Edition

Two weeks ago, a headline in our local paper caught my attention:
“Parking rules too tough on parents, guardians?” The article went on to explain that city councillors in a neighbouring community are having staff review school zone parking rules that are “making it hard for parents and guardians to drop off and pick up students.”

Wait … what??

Parking rules around schools are there for a reason.

These zones are designed so that school buses have a safe place to stop, so that traffic is dispersed and children are able to safely benwalkingcross roads near the school, and so that idling, polluting cars are kept away from heavy pedestrian areas. These areas are important, and need better enforcement.

I quickly wrote a letter to the editor, which was published, but I felt the topic deserved some attention here on the blog as well.

“But I’m too busy to walk!”

In an ideal world, children would be walking to and from school all the time. But, I’m not trying to argue that people always have this choice. Realistically, that isn’t an option for everyone.

We are all busy with jobs, appointments and lessons.  (And, of course, trying to maneuver a sled, stroller or screaming, slow, smaller sibling through un-shovelled slush and sticky snow is not simple). As much as I’m in favour of getting kids to walk, this year we only manage to walk home in the afternoon. We live a 25 minute walk (if my turtle-esque children are walking with me) from the school. I think we are actually at the furthest edge of our school zone.

So, I get it, people (myself included) are going to drive.

But, under what conditions can a parking spot a block or two away from the school be considered a hardship? The only exception, as someone brought up in response to the newspaper letter, would be for someone with a disability. But, there are designated spots for that.

So, can we stop pretending we are so busy we can’t afford the five minutes to walk a block? Let’s just acknowledge the fact that running late typically comes from poor planning, and that avoiding a block of walking by parking for twenty minutes in front of the school is sheer laziness. Of course, I am sometimes guilty of laziness and poor planning, but it doesn’t mean I park in the bus zone.

What are the implications of this behaviour?

I am comfortable walking all around the neighbourhood with my kids, even near busy streets. But, there is one place where my heart starts to race, and that’s in front of our school.

We have rules. They are not followed.

We have crossing guards, but only in two locations on one side of the school.bus

At our school, parents race their cars for the prime spots right in front of the building, in the areas designated for school buses. A whole line of cars idles along the road in the winter for a full 20 minutes before the bell rings. They park right up to and inside the intersections, completely blocking crosswalks. I regularly see cars doing u-turns in our crosswalks and three-point turns right in front of school buses. I see cars using driveways to turn around, zipping right onto sidewalks where small children are trying to walk. I see these things every single day and someone is going to get hurt.

Once in a while, there is a bylaw officer handing out tickets. On those days, the rules are followed. When there is no officer, everyone goes back to the same patterns. Maybe the by-law officers need to start jumping out from behind trees?

“What can we do?”

If there is one place in our community that we have to put pedestrian safety ahead of traffic convenience, it is at our schools. We need our children to be able to safely navigate the streets near the schools, and we need to make the idea of walking home desirable and possible again. This will take cooperation from children, schools, parents, community members, law enforcement and politicians.

In summary:

  1. Ideally, when possible, children should be walking to and from school. Recent Ontario research indicates that 42% of children are driven to and from school today, while only 13% of their parents were. (http://www.saferoutestoschool.ca/) Children are getting nowhere near the necessary amount of exercise, and obesity has become an epidemic.
  2. When walking isn’t an option, safe parking zones away from the front of the schools are typically indicated. These must be clearly presented by the schools and observed by parents.IMG_20140106_154109
  3. If walking a block is uncomfortable in the winter, we can wear boots, and scarves, and snowpants (whatever it takes).
  4. We know better than to idle our cars, right? We don’t? Here you go: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/communities-infrastructure/transportation/cars-light-trucks/idling/4415
  5. More by-law enforcement is needed around schools (or at least ours).
  6. There is no excuse for making a u-turn in a crosswalk. Period.
  7. City rules MUST put pedestrian safety ahead of traffic convenience, especially near schools.

Ok, this Mama Bear is done for now. Please help me keep my cubs safe.

Thanks for reading!

If you have seen good solutions to these problems, I welcome you to share them in the comments. Every school has a different set of issues, but I know many of these are common.

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