Fri12192014

Easy now – harder later?

Harder now, easy later. Easy now, harder later. These words have resonated with me since I first heard them. They have come true many a time when thinking about changing habits or patterns of behavior. Perhaps you have experienced them as well in your life.

When I hear thoughts about students’ transportation to school, I feel I am in a minority in many ways. Many parents believe that driving their children as close as possible to school is the best method for transporting them in a safe manner. Some schools insist on multiple drop-off points as a way of relieving traffic in front of the school. That’s the easy way to transport students to school.

But what happens to our children later in life, after they have been chauffeured around most of their childhood? How safe are the other streets when more cars are present mixed with students walking and biking. Easy now – harder later?

Another option is for children to cycle or walk to school at as young an age as possible. Once parents feel confident that their children can arrive safely at school on their own, the students should be encouraged to do so.

Watching the daily queuing of cars at any Los Altos school – morning or afternoon – makes me wonder if parents have ever thought about the benefits of dropping off and/or picking up a child several blocks away from school. The act of walking a short distance to school has many benefits for children. Studies report that students who walk to school are more attentive, more physically fit and better drivers later in life – all from simply walking a few blocks to school. Harder now – easier later?

Some people insist that we allow more cars to arrive at school because students are not safe otherwise, given the surrounding traffic. I wonder if these same people understand that the source of most of the traffic around the school is parents dropping off and picking up students.

We spend a vast amount of effort recording a child’s first steps, then spend 17 years driving the child places. Easy now – harder later?

The good news is that approximately 29 percent of K-3 students, 40 percent of students in grades 4-6 and 63 percent of students in grades 7 and 8 travel to Los Altos public schools on foot or by bike, scooter or bus. This number has increased from last year, and hopefully the trend will continue.

How many more students would join their peers if the street in front of the school were closed to automobile traffic 20 minutes before and after school? How many fewer accidents would occur around school? How large a decrease in toxic emissions would result?

Yes, closing a street is a hard thing to do today, especially when people want the right to drive their cars anywhere they choose. However, once we make a change, adjusting to a different way of life becomes easier.

I wonder what it will take for adults to allow students to travel to school in a safe, healthful manner, just like when most of us went to school, walking or riding our bikes.

Michael McTighe is the Bike/Walk Program chairman for GreenTown Los Altos.

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