Tag Archives: walkability

She Wants to Ride the School Bus, but It’s Not Working

This cartoon popped up in my Twitter feed via @BrentTodarian. I haven't found the artist yet.
This cartoon Yehuda Moon cartoon (produced by Rick Smith & Brian Griggs) sums it up – but for parents making this decision every morning, it’s not quite so simple.

“It’s not the first two streets that are the problem; she can cross those. It’s that last street, because it doesn’t have a stop sign. And people drive SO fast through town.”

We stood in one small circle of conversation among many others, the room buzzing with questions about the first week of school. Flocks of small children swooped around our legs, swiping cups of lemonade before flying off to bring mayhem to some formerly-quiet corner of the church.

“It’s frustrating, because I really, really wanted her to ride the bus to school. It’s good for her to learn to take the bus and to have that independence, and to know that if she’s not out there on time she’ll miss it.”

I play with the edges of the paper coffee cup, folding the handle up and down as I listen. The coffee is thick and almost greasy somehow, leaving its mark on the sides of the cup.

“But I have other kids, too – honestly, if I have to wake them up anyway to walk her to the bus stop, it’s just easier to stick them in their car seats.”

Yes, the agony of organizing multiple children for school runs. Pulling the sleeping child out from under their blankets, draping that floppy, unwilling weight over your shoulder as you run out the door, returning to the house to pull a second droopy kid from bed. Tears falling from those bleary eyes, always, mama frazzled and late.

We talked through a couple of possibilities. There aren’t any other kids on her block going to the same bus stop, so a walking school bus (uh… to the school bus?) is out. The problem is that one street that’s hard to cross.

Almost all of the east-west streets around here stop at every intersection, but the north-south streets normally go eight blocks or so between stop signs. Of course, this means that traffic on these streets is much faster and that they’re more difficult and dangerous to cross. They’re designed so that people passing through by car can make good time – but they don’t add value to our neighborhoods.

I can think of three women just off the top of my head this morning who are driving their kids to school because there is a street too busy for their child to cross. I accompany my capable children every day for this same reason. The profound irony of this, of course, is that 20% or more of morning traffic is made up of parents doing just that. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

When we begin to talk about a Montessori City, we’re talking about a place where kids can practice age-appropriate behaviors without being unnaturally constrained by their environment. This is entirely do-able, but it’s going to require us to make some changes – and the sooner we allow our kids to live full lives right in their own neighborhoods, the better off our whole community will be down the road.

“It takes me seven minutes to walk her to the bus stop, longer if her little brother insists on walking. It takes me ten minutes to drive her to school. I think I’ll let her take the bus home, but I’m going to start driving her to school. This just isn’t working.

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Walk everywhere. Eat donuts. (Wednesday’s Words)

Forget the hokey-pokey. THIS is what it's all about.
Forget the hokey-pokey. THIS is what it’s all about.

Miss Sarah writes about life on two wheels in Edmonton, Alberta. She’s one of my favorites for getting a sense of what it’s really like to get around using active transportation – and if she can do it in northerly Edmonton, then we can do it anywhere. Click the pic to read more about Miss Sarah’s NYC doughnut crawl! YUM.

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Walkabout Weekend in Grand Rapids

A weekend away from the kids, in the city where I used to live?

Swanky.
Swanky.

Yes, please.

We committed to parking the car for the weekend and getting around like city folk.

Well, hellooo, camera!
Dear Grand Rapids: I love you. Also, you need more road diets. That’s a whole lotta asphalt for downtown!

We walked a few blocks over and caught the #13 bus up to the East Hills neighborhood…

Catching the #13...
Catching the #13…

For the record, we had no idea what we were doing. The Rapid has a trip-planning tool on their website, but I couldn’t figure out how to read the timetables on my phone worth a darn. And although I used to ride the GR bus when I was in grad school, this system has changed a LOT in the intervening years. We made our best guess, asked people waiting at the stop with us, and talked to the driver. It worked. (All that is to say that I’m nobody special here. If you haven’t been on a city bus in a while – or ever – I encourage you to embrace it as an adventure and give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, you can always call a cab. That was our back-up plan!)

Anyway, our ride went smoothly and brought us to…

Oh, Grand Rapids. How I love you.
Bicycles and beer. LOVE.

A newish brewery in an oldish church that channels the brewhouses of Europe. Or so I’m told.

We enjoyed Solitude, of a sort…

Beverages.
Beverages.

and delicious Belgian frites, sprinkled with truffle oil and served with garlic mayonnaise…

Frites.
Frites.

Alas, I was too occupied by enjoying the bread pudding to photograph it. It WAS my birthday, after all. My twenty-ninth, of course… I’m getting really good at this one.

It had somehow escaped my attention that Husband does not wear knee-high furry boots from November to May…

Whoops.
Whoops.

But he was very gracious. It was a beautiful evening…

Snow.
Snow.

for a wintry walkabout.

School Zone: 40 mph

20130226-112349.jpg

I just spotted this sign while driving around today, waiting to pick my daughter up from preschool. Would you be comfortable having your child cross a road where traffic is traveling at 40 mph?

A reminder from one of my earliest posts:

The  effect of vehicle speed on pedestrian death
The effect of vehicle speed on pedestrian death

I should note that I did a little research on this after posting this graph this summer, and learned that it’s based on UK data. American numbers are (yikes) actually slightly worse because we drive larger vehicles.

This is a value judgment, a question of priorities. On this road, we are prioritizing minimal slowdowns for cars over walkability for kids. As a society, we decide whether that is okay or not, but for now, I’d be content to have us actively acknowledge the choice we’re making here.

Friends, Food, and Feet = Health and Happiness (Wisdom Wednesday)

Ice Sculpting Competition in Holland, January 2013
Ice Sculpting Competition in Holland, January 2013

“Evidence keeps piling up that the keys to longevity, good health and happiness lie in social interaction, physical activity and diet.”  ~Ron Kilcoyne on the blog Human Transit

In other words… Meeting friends to wander around a local event, stopping at a local restaurant along the way, is the surest way to a long, healthy, and happy life. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Friday Fun Day! December 14, 2012

Cookies... yum!
Cookies… yum!

When was the last time you heard someone mention that they wanted to live in a more walkable neighborhood? For me, it was last night at the cookies-and-wine festivities I look forward to each year. A woman my age with four children (going on five) is living with her family in Eastown in Grand Rapids – when they were looking for houses, they just really wanted a walkable neighborhood. Eastown fit the bill, and their kids go to Potter’s House, a private Christian school, to make it work. (I LOVE this neighborhood by the way; I lived here right after college and think it’s one of the best in GR.) Another friend has just sold her house and will be moving further out of town so both she and her husband can be nearer to work – but is struggling to find a place that fits the bill without being out too far. “We really want to be close to downtown,” she said, “We still like to go down there a lot. But the schools…” It’s a real, multidisciplinary problem that our cities have. Are we listening?

Along these lines, The U.S. Public Interest Research Group recently did a study indicating that Millennials just don’t want to drive as much as previous generations have. This isn’t necessarily a revelation, but while conventional wisdom has held that this has been because of the recession, driving is down even among those who ought to be able to afford a car. Zipcar corroborates this, though you’ll notice from this slideshow that it’s not just Millennials that are driving less – the trend seems to start with Gens X and Y already. I read these articles and wonder if we’ll wake up in thirty years, looking at our nine-lane roads and itty-bitty sidewalks, with a “what-were-we-THINKING” hangover.

The cargo/family-transport bike search continues. I was recently tipped off to the Xtracycle, which is a kit you use to modify an existing bike frame to make it into a longtail bike. Eugene Bicyclist has a great entertaining post on how exactly that works. This video shows it in action. Wild!

I’m inspired – I especially like the Hooptie, which holds the kids on the back… but I’d need it for three kids, and think a bucket bike might just be easier.

Finally, and on a completely unrelated note: this life is such a gift. Completely insane on many, many days – spend ten minutes in my house and you’ll know that I GET this all too well – but a tremendous gift nonetheless. Head over to FreeSet if you feel like you need a little perspective in the middle of the insanity. Freeset is an NGO in India that buys women out of prostitution. I don’t have the words to express the power of this. A last-minute Christmas gift, perhaps?

Have a wonderful, wonderful weekend. No matter where you are in your Christmas shopping, remember to take a few minutes to go for a walk or a ride. It’s always worth it!