Gail Carlson

For nearly half a decade, I have worked to convince parents, kids, principals, school districts, and cities to support and encourage students to walk or bike to school.

Walking, for most of us, is the simplest, most natural form of transportation.  And the health and environmental benefits are well documented.  But few American parents choose walking or biking to school as a transportation option for their kids, even though according to the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2008 over 50 percent of us live within an easy, quarter to half mile walking distance from school.

How did such a simple act as walking or biking to school become a difficult decision for parents to make, or become a political lightning rod for school districts or city government?  How have we changed as parents?  How have our communities changed?  What scared us into believing that driving our kids to school is the safest and only mode of transportation?

For over a decade, my husband and I, mostly my husband, were among the group of driving parents.  Distance was the main reason we drove our son to school because our son attended a private school, something we believed was in his best interest.  From Pre-school through eighth grade, we drove a minimum 30 miles a day to get him to school…thirty miles of dangerous rural back roads and freeway driving.  I would worry continually about their safety.  It was inevitable they would be involved in an auto accident.  One morning, while in a left turn lane at the entrance of the school, my husband and son were hit from behind by a teenage driver who didn’t see them, spinning our car 360 degrees.  My husband and son were rushed by ambulance to the hospital, and thankfully, are in good health today.

Even before the accident we knew this was a crazy way to go about our lives.   It took several years but we finally made the move and achieved several goals at the same time.  Our son asked if he could go to a particular public high school.  He had discovered the game of lacrosse and wished to attend a school that offered it as a sport. We also desired to live in this area since this is where all of our friends and doctors were located as well as where we did all of our shopping.

So in the summer before my son’s freshman year of high school we moved near the high school of his choice.  He now walks everyday to and from school, which is only a half-mile away.  Many of his friends attend the same public school.  My son’s friends, who live further away, are dropped off at our house and they all walk to and from school together.  The parents are saved the agony of sitting in long lines of traffic, which, I have observed are miles long.  My son’s sense of independence soared as did our quality of life.   It took us many years to get to this place.  And I often wonder why families who already live within walking distance don’t take advantage of this huge opportunity.

The new school year will begin in a few days.  Please take a moment, even if you don’t have children in school, and observe the traffic dynamics at a nearby school and its impact on your community.  Document it and share your experience and observations on this blog.  What concerns you the most?  Is it the environmental impact of idling cars, or traffic congestion?   Is driving to school the safest and most efficient option?  If you don’t believe it is, then become the catalyst for change, and walk or ride to school with your child, niece, nephew or neighbor.  Offer to be a drop-off location like we have done or, if children are in elementary or middle school, supervise a group of kids and form a Walking School Bus or lead a Bike Train.

Something else you can do is to participate in International Walk To School Day on Wed., October 3, 2012.

Walk To School Day is an opportunity to show how walking or biking to school can be safer, healthier, and fun way to get kids to and from school.  Want to get involved?   Over the next several months leading up to Walk To School Day, I will be organizing Walk To School day efforts at my son’s school.  Follow along as I share my experience and offer tips and lessons learned in creating a more walkable and bikeable neighborhood.

For more information about statewide and national Walk To School Day efforts and to see what communities are doing across the country, go to the National Center for Safe Routes To School, California Active Communities and   I Walk to obtain ideas,  free resources and tips on forming Walking School Buses or Bike Trains, how to involve community groups, city government and how to mobilize a community to advocate for a safer walking and biking community.

About Gail Carlson

Gail Carlson is a Safe Routes to School project consultant with extensive experience in project management, program development and implementation, contract administration, budget management, and evaluation.   Gail has over 15 years of grant writing experience receiving millions of dollars in grant awards in transportation, health, and economic development.

Gail’s accomplishments have been recognized by the National Center for Safe Routes To School and the Safe Routes To School National Partnership in California.  Gail is a National Center for Safe Routes To School Instructor, serves on the state of California’s Safe Routes To School Advisory Committee, is a Technical Advisor for the Evaluation Advisory Committee for the California Safe Routes To School Technical Assistance Resource Center (TARC), is a member of the City of Riverside Bicycle Advisory Committee, Project Manager for Livable Communities, and serves on the Board of Directors as Program Director for Inland Empire Biking Alliance.  Gail has a M.B.A. in Public Administration and a B.S. in Business Management.



This article was cross-posted from the Women on Bikes SoCal Blog. Click here to visit the original post.

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