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Today, I’d like to talk about Safe Routes to School. This is the idea that kids can get themselves to school, without need of traffic, and without danger of being struck by a car going at a speed that would do above average damage to their small bodies.  The trend has been away from safe routes to school, and towards universal busing.

Or, for those schools that don’t have the money, or offer money back to parents,universal driving in traffic.  I do not even know if schools offer a rebate to parents who drive their kids into school.  They are saving the school the trouble of running a bus out to their home.  Then again, they magnify the parking and traffic needs of the school immensely.  A long line of cars along the streets around the school, waiting to drop kids off in front of the school, is not something that my school was designed for. I wonder if parents are allowed to drive their scions to within walking distance of the school, but beyond the congestion, and have them walk the remaining distance.  I could imagine some school districts might have a problem with this.  I could imagine some children might have a problem with this, too

I grew up within a safe distance of school.  I was two blocks and a public golf course from my school.  While I usually took the school bus to school, I walked the half mile more often as I got into fifth and sixth grades.  The golf course was fine for seven in the morning, but we quickly learned that people had a problem with people on their fairways at three in the afternoon.  So I usually walked around the golf course  That wasn’t much of a pain, as there was a playground and a pool over there. When I was walking back and forth to school, about 50% of children walked to school.   Now, only 13% of children ever walk to school.

During the school year, 10% of traffic in the morning commute is parents driving their kids to school.  Congestion is a marginal bad, meaning that the last 10% of traffic is much more congested than the first.  I certainly notice congestion getting worse between August and June.

Obstacles to kids walking to school are the distance to school and the amount of fast-moving traffic between home and school.  The more traffic there is on the roads, such as parents dropping their kids off at school, the less kids can walk or bike to school.  The schools where I live now are located next to arterial highways, not in the middle of neighborhoods. This was a frank decision to enable simpler bus routes, but it made the schools less walkable.

I had a conversation with one of my high school classmates who is now sending her son to a quality high school in the Atlanta area.  She drives him about 13 miles there and 13 miles back for the sake of this school. Its a great school.

This forced me to think, do high quality schools have more car commutes than low quality schools?  What irks me about this question is that its a whole new set of data, and its not nationally covered.  Mode trip to school is very sporadically collected, and I’m not even sure I trust all of the 50 states different versions of No Child Left Behind statistics.  There certainly doesn’t appear to be a national tabulation of school quality, and there sure isn’t a tabulation of commute modes to school.

Better schools attract students from further away, at unwalkable distances between their homes and schools.  The traffic queue length at the morning and afternoon peaks should be longer at these schools than at worse schools.  The more students should be passengers in traffic at better schools than at worse schools, mainly because of the wider student “shed” for better schools.  Its just a hypothesis, and I need to put some data to it.

Schools determine housing location decisions.  Even if buyers don’t have kids, they still want to live in better than average school districts, for the resale value, if nothing else.  Planners and urbanists ignore the dynamics of schools at their peril