Thursday, November 13, 2008

Can't walk to school? Whose fault, really?

To everyone who wants to blame:
-- the school board
-- the health department
-- the county commissioners
-- school desegregation
-- me
-- the Observer's editorial board
-- whoever else is handy ...

... for the fact that in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, as in many communities around the nation, it's difficult for most kids to walk to school, I offer the following complexities for your consideration. (If you're new to this, first visit my posting from yesterday, "Why it's not easy to walk to school," and the comments on it.) Now, here are a few things to ponder, among the many realities that affect the situation:
-- Until the late 1990s, the city of Charlotte didn't require developers to build many sidewalks in their new developments.
-- The city's budget for retrofitting streets with sidewalks, while expanding, is pitifully inadequate.
-- In North Carolina counties have no responsibility for streets or roads or sidewalks. Either the city builds and maintains them, or the state does. The state's attitude used to be to discourage any sidewalks built outside a municipal jurisdiction. Much of what's now inside Charlotte was in unincorporated Mecklenburg County when it was built (and later was annexed). Thus, few sidewalks.
-- Most of suburban Charlotte is pedestrian-hostile, with wide and busy intersections, few pedestrian lights and crosswalks, long blocks and little connectivity.
-- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, in its building designs and site-size requirements, followed state requirements based on a national organization, meaning those requirements exist all over the country. Only in recent years have some N.C. requirements become "guidelines" which school systems can occasionally bypass. The requirements included huge sites: e.g. 18 acres for elementary schools, 60 for high schools. CMS, to its credit, is building on smaller sites when it can, and building more multistory schools, which need slightly smaller footprint. And it's trying to keep walkability (and transit) in mind for newer schools.
-- CMS has been harangued for years by the anti-tax crowd to be more economical in its school building, so like many large systems slammed with growth, it moved to larger (I would say too large) schools. Larger schools mean students must come from farther away, making it harder for them to walk, especially in Charlotte's pedestrian-hostile suburban areas.
-- The appropriate elected officials to blame for crowded schools are the county commissioners. They're the ones who allocate money -- or don't -- to build new schools and maintain old ones. The school board asks, but usually doesn't receive all it asks for.
-- While some comments have noted the can't-walk-to-school situation isn't universal, it is common across America, even where there was no school busing for integration. Desegregation is essentially a red herring in this debate. Further, even when there was plenty of busing for integration, some kids attended schools nearby for at least part of their schooling.
Yes, it's theoretically possible a push for more walkable schools might have arisen earlier if all children were attending schools nearby. But I've lived in Charlotte 30 years and the whole "walkability" movement -- irrespective of school kids -- was nonexistent for most of that time.


Anonymous said...

I am a Charlotte native who luckily got to walk from my home 4 houses down to Windsor Park Elementary School the entire six years I went there. That was when walking was favored over driving or busing to school. I wish it could be that way again; the school system has NO business telling parents their kids can't walk to school! Walking to school might cure some of the childhood obesity we have going on right now.

Anonymous said...

That's just crazy talk. No way I'd let my child walk at 6 years old all the way to Old Providence. I am about .25 miles down. Obesity or not, my child will get exercise after school. No way is walking safe like it used to be...

Anonymous said...


say what you want. But if everyone you mentioned cooperated on this walking issue: planners, commissioners, zoning, etc. it still wouldn't work because of CMS' decades of poor policy.

Anonymous said...

Someone apparently gave Mary a blamethrower for her birthday. Too bad she's just spraying it all over the place without any regard for logic or common sense.

Did you know that before there were sidewalks, people used to walk on the bare, hard ground? Hard to believe, I know.

lacy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Safety is a huge issue now. Also, the streets in Charlotte are not pedestrian friendly. More side walks are need. Especially on W.T.Harrs blvd. between The Plaza and Hwy 29. The roads need more lights. Crossing guards would be helpful as well.

barkomomma said...

Here's an idea:

Take the millions upon millions of dollars spent by CMS year after year. Set up an online curriculum. Issue computers to every student. Pay Time Warner for Internet service for and issue computers to every LEGAL student in the district.

Get rid of the bus fleet. Eliminate 80 percent of staff. Sell off the buildings and property. Make parents responsible.

Ah, nothing like magic mushrooms for lunch, eh?

Anonymous said...

I spent over a year trying to work with city and state engineers to have some sort of simple crosswalk installed in a the new fourlane being built to replace the old two lane road which ran between our subdivision and the elementary,middle, and highschool directly across the road. I tried the "Safe Routes to School" option sponsored (?) by the state.
Anything to allow me or my child to ride a bike or walk 1/4 mile to school. Everyone had an excuse. The city (Kannapolis) just wasn't interested. The state said it was a money issue. It's just not on their priority list. So now, to get to school, we drive down to the traffic light, do a 180 back to the school for a total of a mile of driving. Nice! So when I go out for a bike ride, it's easier to just bunny-hop their traffic islands and go.

charlesbright said...

This may help in some small neighborhoods where many children live: When I lived in Denver while stationed at Lowry AFB, my children had to walk to elementary school. Most of us signed up for "Helping Hand". To get a black hand image to put in your window, you had to be investigated and approved by the school district. Anytime a child had any difficulty at all walking to school, they simply ran to a house with a "Helping Hand" sign in the window. It worked well in Denver and gave us much comfort of mind.

Anonymous said...

You said" Did you know that before there were sidewalks, people used to walk on the bare, hard ground? Hard to believe, I know."

Yeah. But that was before there were a million cars on roads without shoulders traveling 10+ MPH over the speed limit...

Anonymous said...

You and other liberals are the biggest part of the problem. I feel bad for CMS because it can't win.

I grew up in a school district where nobody in middle or high school took a bus. Everyone walked.

Busing is the biggest contributor to Charlotte neighborhoods being what they are. CMS was forced to build schools in locations that were politically motivated, not financially or geographically sensible. Taxpayers, thus were forced to spend way too much money on inner city schools that nobody wants to attend.

They didn't build schools were all the people lived. Suburban children have been slighted for so long by a socialist experiment gone wrong, and which is still being touted by the Observer.

And God forbid if the economy gets too much worse. Then the suburban kids who had to flock to private schools because there was no room in the public schools might have to return, making overcrowding even worse.

Here's one simple observation regarding the stupidity that has resulted because of busing/desegregation, etc.: There is not ONE high school in Cornelius or Davidson. There's about 35,000 residents in the two towns and not a single high school.

Mary, wake up and smell the coffee. You need to change your perceptions or you and other liberals are going to continue destroying the educational opportunities for so many students.

eye_dee_ten_tea said...

Poor anon 2:25! You don't realize that North Meck isn't Charlotte so it doesn't matter.

Of course, you nailed it. If politicians aren't running for office, they're conducting social experiments. And their track record...speaks for itself.

lacy said...

So much for free speech on Mary's site. Guess you don't practice what you preach!!

lacy said...

Your Blog's are still lame!!

Anonymous said...

When I was pregnant, I dreamed of walking hand in hand w/my daughter to our local school. Then, they turned it into a performing arts magnet, which is not the direction we want to support. Regardless, every kid around us goes to private school, and we hope to send our daughter to a school that offers language immersion school.

I guess I had this dream like everyone does even though I grew up in a small town and didn't walk to school. Walking to school is nice if it works, but having grown up in a small town, I know two things: 1) it's dangerous - a girl I knew was severely raped and beaten; she's never recovered, and 2) it takes a huge population density (or really tiny schools - not economically feasible) to actually be able to have large numbers walk. When I was a kid, we still needed a bus to get to school otherwise most kids would be walking 1+ miles each way. Not likely then, not likely now, especially in a city and throughout rain, sleet, cold, etc.

Making Charlotte more bike and pedestrian friendly should be the goal. If more kids can walk to school, then more of us can realize a dream that very few have actually experienced.

Anonymous said...

Mary, I appreciate you. Whether someone tries to hang a liberal or some other label on you, please ignore the cheap shots. I admire the way you report on issues people need to discuss. It doesn't make you a liberal, socialist, communist or any other type just because you open up a subject for discussion. A lot of the subject matter you open up needs to be aired out. Most people have no idea what goes on in various circles concerning government, development, planning, etc. They need your help in opening up these matters so they can form an develop an informed opinion, even if they disagree with you. Respectful discourse. Thanks again!

allyson said...

CORRECTION! It was just as dangerous to walk to school in the 70's as it is now.
You stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

Strange. My kids in Fort Mill will be able to walk to school with no problem.

Maybe y'all should have weighed your options...

Rick said...

I'm going to have to stick with the "It's just plain stupidity" line of reasoning. Even in situations where it would be safe for kids to walk, CMS and Planning drop the ball.

Take a look at the new Croft Community School off of Hucks road. Canipe Drive in Davis Ridge neighborhood goes right behind the school property and even has a curb cut where a road could connect through to Hucks Road. That must have been required by some planning guru before the school site was identified.
The school is in the big field in this map - closer to the top right side of the field. (Use the Satelite view.)

As of recently, there's not any easy way for kids who live right next door to the school in Davis Ridge to walk/bike there without having to climb across a muddy ravine and then walk across the field to the school which is on the far side. This is the case even though it's obvious the earlier expectation was that there'd be cut trough traffic across the property.

Kids will probably still walk it, but when one of them hurts themselves in that ravine - what then?

TONY said...

There are many good comments, included here, on this issue of walking to school. But, so long as the school system is allowed to include busing as an option, no one will find a solution to this problem. Magnet schools, busing for diversity, integration no longer works; this social experiment has failed. However, social experimentation and social engineering will continue so long as there are millions of millages passed by the public. Charlotte has many private schools for one reason.... the public school system (USDE and teachers' union) have failed, miserably. Nevertheless, hundreds of taxpayers continue to pay for a failed public school experiment even tho they have no children of school age, and many pay double for sending their children to private schools. So, do not vote for additional millage to not finance busing, new buildings, large salaries, bloated teachers' unions, and force the issue to be solved. And, don't forget to thoroughly investigate the School Board members before reelection.... some have been asleep at the wheel for a long time.

Anonymous said...

We walked about 3/4 mile to and from school every day. The way our buses were set up was if you were "in the country" farmland, about five miles out from the school or more. My kids walked to school in elementary school. Those moms who say "I won't let my kids walk to school," we group walked our kids from the street. Took turns.

The problem at CMS is choice school and magnet school programs. Do you realize that if you select and are ok'ed for a choice or magnet, your child may be the only kid on a big yellow bus all the way there and back from your home? Cheaper to rent a limo. Close choice and magents, save about 1/3 of the fuel costs.

In addition: watch buses stop in neighborhoods, not on the corners of bigger streets, but almost every fifth house! Stop and go, fuel and break use over and over. Have a few central pick ups and let the kids and their moms congregate there. Most of the mothers walk in groups in the mornings anyway. Good exercise and bonding for parents and kids. A bunch of cars congregate by my drive each morning and afternoon, so much they block my drive and I can't get in or out. Obese learning for kids, don't walk five houses, have mom drive in the SUV in all weather - sunny, warm, rain, cold.

Sidewalks! Please! Drive in a sub-division - they walk on the street, you have to drive around them and on trash day, drive around walkers on streets, trash cans and then those road humps. No one hardly walks on the sidewalks, skateboarders use them for hopping on and off tho.

Maybe the kids can't walk ALL the way to school like days of yore, but they can walk to central bus stops (with parents) and from central stops (with parents waiting) but these diva kids and diva parents have to have convenient stops where (I have seen this and so have you) drivers have to wait until the kids run from houses, hug mom, etc across the street (do it before the bus comes and cross the street w/them before it comes). This rude behavior uses fuel, ruins the schedule and can make a whole busload of kids late. Is that fair?

Karina said...

Here's an interesting website on this topic

Anonymous said...

Windsor Park continues to be a great neighborhood in terms of connectivity. It's 10 min from Uptown and is served well by CATS. Windsor Park Elementary is close enough to walk to from just about any place in the neighborhood. Once the economy turns around, I think Windsor Park will be a high demand neighborhood for middle income people looking to escape the long commute.

Regarding walking to school - parents want/need to be able to supervise their kid's trip to school. If the parent has to drive to work early, then dropping their kid off or putting them on the bus help them get to work on time. It's hard to find time to walk your kid to school when you're already supposed to be in the office - all the way across town.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Charlotte in a time where you could wake up, take your time, eat a good breakfast, then walk to school. Now, kids have to jump out of bed, get dressed and head to school before the rooster even crows. I sure wouln't want to walk now. Loved the good ole days :). Also when we got to school we were educated, not just how to take a state test so school system employee's can get a bonus.

Anonymous said...

The world has changed, its become more dangerous we all realize it.

I rode the bus to school as a child and aside from an occasional ribbing from older kids i survived unscathed.

I would love to be able to walk my child to school every day an pick them up as well, but thats not the world we live in.

There are to many creeps and weirdos out there just looking to pray on our kids.

As for those who seem to think that librals have screwed up the country, I guess you were asleep for the last 8 years and the disaterous results of the Bush years.

I digress,keeping our kids safe, and our public schools means having a proper infastructure ( sidewalks to that they can get there and back by walking, biking etc.

This sounds like a case where zoning has failed and needs a overhaul. Solve the problem, be part of the solution instead of throwing gas on the fire...