Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why it's not easy to walk to school

"Why was it necessary to create a job in the health dept. to encourage kids to walk to schools? Isn't that something a principal/teachers/student nurse could communicate to the parents?"

Good question, from a comment on the previous posting. The situation is complicated. A few administrators at schools here (and other cities as well) don't want kids walking to school. They think it's unsafe. They think kids already have bus rides so why would they want to walk? In addition, many principals spend their time trying to make sure kids are learning and teachers are teaching. How students arrive at school -- as long as it's not causing immediate problems -- is way, way down the list. I wish the case were otherwise, but it's not realistic to think that will change.

And school nurses? Most school nurses are assigned to multiple schools and barely have time to turn around, must less launch campaigns to encourage walking.

But there are other problems, too, that even the principals who DO want kids to walk or bike can't surmount: Lack of sidewalks. Lack of crosswalks. Lack of midblock stoplights on long, long blocks. Lack of bike lanes. Lack of crossing guards. Those policies and decisions are not within a principal's authority, but reside with the City of Charlotte.

And it's even more complicated. Plenty of schools were built and designed for car- and-bus-only transportation. They're not in pedestrian-friendly settings. Here's a good example: Unless things have changed in the last couple of years, Greenway Park Elementary sits right next to the McAlpine Greenway, yet there's no pedestrian connection to the greenway. The school, like many, sits so far back from the road and its sidewalk that the whole setting conveys a subliminal message of "Don't walk here." Technically, of course, you can walk to that school. But it wouldn't be very efficient or pleasant.

Older schools -- Eastover, Myers Park Traditional, Davidson Middle, Midwood School, the old Wilmore School (now used for offices) -- were built when it was expected that kids would walk to school. That fell out of favor, all over the country.

School designs for the past 40 years had almost nothing to do with whether the assignment zones were neighborhood-school or crosstown busing. You see the same styles all over the country, not just in Charlotte. They have to do with state school design guidelines (influenced by national standards), traffic engineering and the architectural mode and practices of the day when they were built.

Reversing all the policies that combine to create an anti-walking environment is a huge task. I don't wany my school principals having to tackle it. They have another mission.


Anonymous said...

Some schools have no clue their kids would WANT to walk. My daughter was set to go to an elementary school 3 blocks from my house. When it was built in the 1950's, neighborhood children walked there, even with no sidewalks. I was excited about getting up with her in the mornings and getting some exercise as she rode her bike. I asked where the bike racks were, and no one knew if there even were any. After 15 minutes, a very helpful teacher suggested they would find a place for my daughter's bike if she chose to ride. In that 15 minutes, I overheard an office attendant tell another parent that her child qualified for bus service -- even though they lived two blocks in the OTHER direction -- the direction that had sidewalks! I would love to see more kids walk -- and more of that enormous transportation budget spent in children's classrooms!

Anonymous said...

Since the school system insists on busing kids to schools on opposite ends of the city, to fill a "quota" kids in Charlotte don't get to walk to school. They instead get to stand out on the corner at 5am to wait for a bus to pick them up to drive them 2 hours around and then get to school. Real fair....all the while there is a school for them 2 blocks down the street. Did I answer your question? You already knew the answer I think...

Anonymous said...

I don't think you can say that walking to school fell out of favor all over the country. Nor is it accurate to say that most schools designed in the past 40 years were not engineered for walking. We came here from a fast growing school district in Kansas, chock full of new schools--everyone who could walked or rode bikes, many on the connecting bike paths the community provided. My next door neighbor here moved to Michigan, new subdivision, and she marveled at how nice it was to watch her kids bike off to school each day. In the late 80's/ early 90's at our home in Tennessee my children, and all of their friends, walked to school almost every day. Heck in Kansas and Tennessee many parents walked to the PTA meetings.
As I stated on your previous post I truly do believe a good many people in Charlotte forgot what it was like to have kids walk to school--and many bought into the "you're selfish if you want your kids to go to school close to home" theory. So no one really thought it was strange to build schools without sidewalks. I'm glad someone is finally paying attention, even though it's rather outrageous that we have to hire someone to teach us how to have walkable schools!

rebecca said...

My daughters go to Selwyn and AG - and their friends who live right around the corner are "not allowed" to walk to school! And to catch the bus they would have to leave 45 minutes before school starts and then drive around the nieghborhood! So now their the parents have to drive them each morning. Granted, it is not a long drive, but because of traffic it takes longer to ride than if they were to walk! After complaints they started letting the middle and high school kids walk, but not the Selwyn kids. It is crazy. (Years ago when my oldest son was at Myers park, he was being horrible in the car and I stopped and told him to get out and walk! He was stunned, but walked the rest of the way --about a mile and a half -- And the next day the school called to scold me!! I thought it was hilarious ---and in fact he kept his mouth shut in the car until he graduated!)

Anonymous said...

"You see the same styles all over the country, not just in Charlotte. "

Mary, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say you are "misinformed".

There are examples all over the country where schools are built that hold 300 elementary students and 1200 H.S. students, are centerpieces of their communities, and use walking/biking as a primary transportation mode.

Horrible CMS busing/social engineering policy has robbed all races and socio-economic classes of a walking option. CMS has in the past built these monster-sized schools in the middle of nowhere--"equally inconvenient for all".

More recently they are building them closer to the population but they still are enormous. The H.S. being built in Cornelius will accommodate 4200 students! Someone pointed out that that # includes trailers. No kidding? Show me a school in the growing areas that doesn't have trailers.

Currently, buses drive kids 100,000's wasted miles. Think about the greenhouse effect, the exercise the kids could have and the sense of community these smaller, community-based schools would provide.

This type of policy is taboo at CMS. That is why it has slowly eroded into the ranks of the other overblown urban school bureaucracies.

Anonymous said...


Tajblues said...

Responding to "Mary, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and say you are "misinformed".

There are examples all over the country where schools are built that hold 300 elementary students and 1200 H.S. students, are centerpieces of their communities, and use walking/biking as a primary transportation mode."

Untrue. While there are some that are a center piece, many of those are in new monster subdivisions or older suburbs (as stated by Mary).

As an urban planner I can say with full confidence that there has been a serious disconnect between schools and good planning for the last 3 decades. Unfortunately, there is little to no end in sight thanks to geneally uncooperative school boards.

Tajblues said...



Anonymous said...

To say that walkable schools fell out of favor is a joke. Kids stopped walking to school when they were forced from neighborhood schools by busing mandates.

Karen said...

The simplest solution is to close the things down. Issue vouchers for those who don't want to homeschool and be done with it. I'm tired of paying for everyone else's kids to go to school. We've shouldered the education bill for our own kids since kindergarten. I'm not complaining about that. I am complaining that I have to shoulder it for your kids too.

Privatizing the system would make so much more sense than hiring all these extra positions - really, what are they truly providing in terms of the gnp? NOTHING! :o)

Anonymous said...

Mary- You are absolutely wrong on this one! And terribly out of date.

It's the policy of Fairfax County in N Virginia, that schools are built with sidewalks and bike lanes and it's been that way for 20 years.

Every developer is expected to provide sidewalks and the county builds bike lanes on every street. We have over 100 miles of bike paths and greenways that connect up with schools and neighborhoods all over the Wash DC metro area.

Even in Vermont, where there is 100 inches of snow a year and temps of 20 below zero has bike lanes, and municipalities have sidewalks and encourage people to walk.

So whats the excuse for planning schools, streets and neighborhoods in Charlotte and most of N Carolina?

~ LMA said...

I'd dearly love to be able to walk my daughter to Polo Ridge Elementary, a mere 1.1 miles from our home. However, we'd get flattened on Tom Short Road, as there are no sidewalks on a significant stretch of the road we'd have to walk.

Does the Health Department allocate funds for sidewalks, or decide where they'll go? What a waste of our money.

Anonymous said...

To the urban planner who claims school boards are one of the main impediments to walkable schools--I would say that in Charlotte, especially in the 90's it was not only the school board, but the majority on the county commission, the editorial board of the Observer, and various civic leaders and organizations that worked vigorously to prevent walkable schools from being built. As for the idea that the entire country moved away from having kids walk to school during the past 30 years I guess that's a convenient argument if you were part of the crowd that was absolutely certain that people who moved here during the 80's and 90's were selfish and racist because they wanted to have their kids attending schools close to home. Perhaps, instead, those newcomers recognized and valued walkable schools because of their experiences in other communities.

Anonymous said...

To Karen: "Privatizing the system would make so much more sense than hiring all these extra positions - really, what are they truly providing in terms of the gnp? NOTHING!"

How dare you? How ignorant, selfish, and hateful. I have nothing else to say to this except that it's because of people like YOU that shortsighted, sidewalk-less school areas get built.

monkeycountry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
monkeycountry said...

The cause is not just busing. Our district in California has no buses, yet many kids within 10 min walk do not walk. And we have sidewalks. Many stay-at-home moms drive their kids - why? Some are afraid, some think it makes them a better parent, and some find it a good excuse to stop by Starbucks "on the way". Still, I think the main problem is parents are afraid. The "stranger danger" disease has consumed us.

"tajblues" should not suggest that every place is bad, when there are many examples of good ones across the country (I'm a planner, too).

And to Karen: it is proven that good public schools result in higher property values. If you own a house, you're benefitting regardless of where your children are educated. Privatization is what "fortunate" people ask for, without understanding the effects. As long as you are a member of society (yes, you are included, even if you don't care about the rest of us), you benefit from public schools. Vouchers don't work because schools can raise their prices above what some people can afford. Then what?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know why we need sidewalks to get anywhere. Are we so paranoid that we might get hurt by walking in the grass at the sides of the road, or even walking on the sides of the roads themselves, in residential areas? Or is it just that people have become so spoiled and selfish that they feel it is their right to have a paved walkway?

The only real hindrance I can see is the situation some posters have mentioned - that they are being told NOT to walk, or even scolded for walking! That is pure stupidity. Teach the kids about safety, then let them amaze you with how effectively they get around anywhere they need to go.

As for cross-country bussing, that is pure stupidity as well, but I think at least it started out with the right intentions. It would be a hard thing to change at this point. Still, it could be done, given time and determination.

To the Anonymous poster who lambasted Karen for wanting to privatize schools:

You are the one who is being "ignorant, selfish, and hateful." It is a fact that the countries where the government spends the least amount of money on the educational system, the standardized test scores of the students are higher. The more money spent, the lower the scores.

I saw this fact mapped out in statistics from an article that my math teacher had clipped out, when I was in high school. Good ole USA was at the top of the list for spending, and at the bottom of the list for test scores.

If you have nothing constructive to say, shut up and go away!

sexy said...