The Long Walk to School
Sun, 10/09/2011 - 10:10am | by nmhood
Woodbury has a problem. Kids don’t walk to school.
In the hubbub, no one notices what’s missing – the dying practice of walking to school. Of 620 students at Bailey, not one walks – not even those who live one block away. Managers of a 6-year-old federal program think they know why.
Of 620 students at Bailey Elementary, not one walks. This sounds startling, but if you look at the aerial map you’ll see it’s totally reasonable why parents don’t let their kids walk to school. It’s setback a good distance from an intersection of a busy collector road and a county highway. Not only is the school setback; the adjacent homes are, too. So, even if a family lived relatively close to the school, walking would still be a great distance – especially for a younger child.
Children don’t walk to schools like Bailey because of the lack of sidewalks and safe street crossings. But after spending $820 million to promote walking to school and reducing childhood obesity, there is no sign the program has actually added any walkers at all. [Fewer students walk to school; Minnesota Public Radio] – Bold emphasis mine
Children don’t walk to school because they lack sidewalks and safe street crossings. This claim by the experts is true, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Suburban neighborhoods often have no sidewalks besides the occasional winding pathway that connects one edge of the subdivision through a poorly defined park towards the other end in a curvy, non-direct way and large suburban road crossings can be scary. The crossing near Bailey Elementary in Woodbury has a crosswalk, but no stop lights to halt the 55 mph traffic. But – even if more sidewalks and safer crossings were added to the equation, this would still ignores the big problem of distance. If Bailey Elementary added all the recommended changes, it would be a nearly impossible two to five mile hike to school for each 10 year old.
We’ve arranged our neighborhoods in a way that they are very far away from everyday places. This costs us a great deal of time and money: parents need to drive their children to school before they head off to work (time) and use up gas in the process (money).
[Woodbury's new high school mega complex - not even on Google Maps yet]
The article recognizes that “many schools are built to discourage walking” and interviews a local architect:
Many schools are resistant to change because they are designed for drivers, not pedestrians. Architect Paul Youngquist learned that lesson when he was planning the new East Ridge High School in Woodbury in 2007.
“I wanted to put the parking lots a bit away from the building,” Youngquist said. But at a meeting, someone was aghast at the idea that the move would make students walk farther. “I said: `Good! A walk seems like an appropriate way to start the day,’ ” Youngquist recalled.
But the chorus of outrage swelled until he relented. He pushed the parking lots next to the building.
“They just don’t want to walk,” Youngquist said.
Youngquist nails it. We, as a suburbanized culture, don’t want to walk – mostly because we sort of understand that the stuff we have built isn’t worth walking by.
“East Ridge looks like most suburban schools – akin to a shopping mall surrounded by acres of pedestrian-hostile open space.”
Well said. It looks like we’re finally starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together. We’re not there yet, but we seem to be getting close. It's very telling that even $820 million worth of grants can't make pedestrian activity possibly in the land of epic sprawl.
Related Post: Small towns and ugly schools
You can read more on my blog @ Thoughts on the Urban Environment.