There’s a powerful post over at the Strong Towns blog about how few kids walk to school in most American communities and why. It resonates with a lot of the thinking we’ve been doing here at PPS about Building Community Through Transportation.

Nathaniel M. Hood writes about how at one Minnesota school, out of 620 students, not a single one walks to school. That includes kids who live just a block away.

This shouldn't be a rare sight. Photo: D Sharon Pruitt via Flickr.

Here’s how Hood breaks down the problem:

This sounds startling, but if you look at the map you quickly understand that it’s reasonable for parents to not let their kids walk to school; the building is set back a great distance from the intersection of a busy collector road and a county highway and the nearby neighborhoods lack safe sidewalks. And while the intersection connecting Bailey to its nearby neighborhoods has a crosswalk, it has no stop lights despite four lanes of 55 mph traffic [Walk Score: 17].

Even if more sidewalks and safer crossings were added to the equation, we would still be ignoring the predicament of distance.  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).

If Bailey added all the recommended changes, it would still be an impossible two- to five-mile hike for the average 10-year-old. This systemic problem is obvious, yet we’re painfully clueless.

It’s widely accepted that many schools built in the last 20 years were deliberately designed to discourage walking. What’s puzzling to me is that more people weren’t concerned about this.

He goes on to say this:

We don’t want to walk because, at a conscious or unconscious level, we realize that the stuff we’ve built isn’t worth walking by.

You all know what he’s talking about — the miles and miles of American streets and roads that are not real places that engage human beings, but merely conduits for cars to move ever faster.

Head over and read the post in full. It’s well worth it.

Of course, things don’t have to be like this. Streets can be wonderful public places, and a community’s transportation network can bring people together rather than isolating them.

We explore ways that can happen in our “Streets as Places” training, which is coming up in New York this November 10-11. There’s still time to register.

And stay tuned. We’ll be writing a lot more about these issues in the weeks and months to come.