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Taking a walk on the healthy side is a better option

One of the principal points of contact between municipal governments and local schools involves parking and traffic congestion, particularly in the mornings.

Parents insist on driving their children to school rather than letting them walk. Schools insist on limiting access times, while simultaneously failing to provide adequate off-street parking or drop-off spots. The mix frequently leaves municipal governments scrambling to deal with safety and traffic concerns, often involving police enforcement.

That’s certainly been an ongoing issue even in Woolwich.

Rules that restrict to a brief period the arrival time of students lead to a concentration of parents and kids – and their cars – converging all at once. Lack of adequate infrastructure at the school means the long lineup of cars spill over onto municipal parking lots and streets.

But at a fundamental level the problem stems from parents driving their kids to school instead of letting them walk, cycle, board or use other alternatives, even when those choices would be faster, safer, better for the environment and for the health of their children. School officials know this, which is why they encourage participation in programs such as International Walk to School (IWALK) month. In Waterloo Region, we have the Active and Safe Routes to School program.

The benefits are clear. We all know we need to increase daily physical activity, improve the safety of our communities, reduce traffic congestion around schools, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and create communities where people choose to walk. Knowing is one thing. Putting it into action is another.

Debates are ongoing about the advisability of parents driving their children to school.

Increasingly, students who aren’t bussed travel to and from school in their parents’ cars, rather than walking or bicycling. While previous generations may not have walked to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways, kids did get there under their own steam much more frequently than is the case today.

Concerned about obesity and falling fitness levels, authorities have been encouraging kids to wake, bike or blade to school. In Waterloo Region, the public health department promotes the practice, and planners pay more attention to safe school routes.

From an environmental perspective, every car trip avoided results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. And keeping the car away from schools is also much safer: accident statistics show school zones have become one of the most dangerous places in our communities. Families that would like to walk opt to take the car because they don’t want to become another pedestrian statistic.

We’ve become so dependent on driving to school that the ‘school run’ accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of morning rush hour trips.

In fact, it was a collision between a young cyclist and a car – not serious, thankfully – that prompted the latest round of enforcement by the township, which stepped up its efforts to find a solution, as addressed this week by Woolwich councillors. The goal is to deal with congestion to increase the safety of kids going to and from school. But measure taken to date have not been effective, in part because some parents remain uncooperative, even heaping abuse on officials attempting to bring order to the drop-off area.

By moving cars to a larger lot, the township hopes to alleviate some of the congestion, but it will really take cooler heads and more foot power to make things better.



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