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Walk and Bike to School: Know Your Way Around *and* Be Happy

A new study illuminates why pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets are so important, not just for the health and environmental impact of neighborhood residents but also for kids' fear and sense of overall well-being. As the post in The Atlantic points out, "Automobile collisions disproportionately kill kids, for starters. Heavy traffic also prevents them from playing on their neighborhood streets. And communities with limited opportunities for walking and playing outside have been shown to have higher rates of childhood obesity, which can lead to serious health complications in later life."

But the new study by Bruce Appleyard, a Portland-based urban planner and designer (and son of an urbanist who famously showed how heavy traffic in a neighborhood increases disconnection, disatisfaction and loneliness) talks about ground-level concerns, the ones I have a lot with my own kids: knowing their way around and being happy in the place where they live.

Bruce showed that kids in low-traffic, walkable neighborhoods remembered more features of their neighborhoods and remembered playing in more parts of their neighborhood than kids in high-traffic neighborhoods where they spent more time in cars. What's more, they simply liked their neighborhoods more and felt safer (according to the "cognitive mapping" techniques he used). He wrote, "In sum, as exposure to auto traffic volumes and speed decreases, a child’s sense of threat goes down, and his/her ability to establish a richer connection and appreciation for the community rises."

Later, he went back to the high-traffic neighborhood after it had undergone improvements in walkability and bike infrastructure. They knew more about their neighborhoods, and, he wrote, "Before the improvements were made in the heavy-traffic-exposure neighborhood, many children drew expressions of dislike and danger associated with automobiles and were unable to represent any detail of the surrounding environment -- possibly feeling overwhelmed by the threats posed by the automobiles. After the improvements alleviated the exposure to these threats, there were indeed fewer expressions of danger and dislike, indicating a greater sense of comfort and well-being."

I've thought about trying this experiment on my own kids, having them draw maps of the neighborhood (without scientific rigor, given that I know next to nothing about cognitive mapping). I think it would be a great way to celebrate Walk and Bike to School month.


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The problem isn't even about our streets being pedestrian friendly----assuming you live in Portland (and not an outlying 'burb), we're VERY pedestrian friendly. And most schools were built within easy walking/biking distance because 40 years ago, that was still how things were done.

What is the issue? The mindset here is still pretty pro-car (though better than many other US cities). I've seen plenty of parents regularly drive thier kids to school, even though they lived just two blocks away.

Even people who enjoy walking take an evening walk instead of simply making walking and public transportation part of thier lives. And will still drive 3 or 4 blocks to pick up milk.

But I do agree about the whole isolation thing, etc---we just need to just walk more!

Maybe it has to do with Portland having so much school choice... in my neighborhood (Woodlawn), most of the elementary aged kids don't go to the local public school. And the area it draws from is so large that many kids are miles away even though it is their 'neighborhood school'. The school is also near at least one, and probably several more depending on where you come from, major streets that wouldn't work well for the unaccompanied kid (as in, drivers won't stop at the zebra crossing)... thus, the parent now needs to take a walk to school, return home, and then go off to work (assuming parent drives). There was a brief time in my life where I could walk to day care, then bus to work- but, I am not going to choose school nor child care based solely on location...
We do walk for groceries. We do walk for any errands within a mile.

you two make a point I missed in this discussion -- that we have to actually walk and bike with our kids, and/or let our kids walk and bike to school and to neighborhood destinations, for this to take. and I don't think it's just Portland -- as Zumpie noted, it's better than other US cities.

I think I've told the story here (and heard other similar stories from others) about one time when I was in Northern Virginia, walking about a half-mile from my hotel to my office. there was a crosswalk but no sidewalks on either side, but I persevered, as there was ample grassy space on which to walk. I was stopped by a driver, who asked, "is something wrong?" and offered to give me a ride. clearly if someone is walking, there's something wrong!

pedestrian- and bike-friendly doesn't just refer to the possibility of walking and biking, but the social support and mindset that perpetuate it. I know I've horrified many drivers by letting my boys walk down 39th without encasing them in some sort of protective device (they've yelled at me and honked at me and shook their fists angrily at me, though the boys were following all applicable laws!). I feel that our neighborhood community is slowly transitioning from a 80%+ drive-the-kids-to-school to a more sensible ratio; but it's a slow and awkward change. anyone who's ever navigated a street in front of a local elementary school five minutes before the bell knows that our infrastructure is not sufficient to our driving habits.

I hope that knowing the many benefits of transporting our kids outside of cars will encourage more people to do it! it's funny, in a way, because the reason (or the national prevailing reason, anyway) we drive our kids to schools is because we're scared for their safety... and this shows that driving them makes them more scared.

and spottie, I agree that school choice seems to exacerbate the problem and change the equation in Portland from one of this vs. that to this vs. the near-impossible. I biked my kids three+ miles each way to a school I really liked for them last year, and it was just too much. if we had a car I probably would have stuck it out and they'd all be piled in most days.

I agree school choice plays a part, but only a part. In my neighborhood, there are two elementary schools within easy walking distance. When my daughtger was elementary school aged, I was always able to walk her to Atkinson (about 8 blocks) and then take the bus to work from there (no need to return home if you bring your purse!).

But I routinely saw stay at home moms (and no, I'm not turning this into a SAH versus working moms debate) who lived much closer than we did drive thier kids to school, only to return home for the day. It just didn't even occur to them to walk, even if it was nice out, even if it was Walk and Bike Day, even if they were otherwise into fitness.

I vividly recall my co-workers being SHOCKED that we actually walked EIGHT WHOLE BLOCKS to school, every day. And, again, they all worked out, but drove into work downtown, paying extra for parking---even though they didn't need to drive once they were there and lived close in.

While school choice can play something of a part---especially in North Portland---in much of the city people do live within very easy walking distance of at least their elementary schools. And school choice doesn't come into play once your child is middle school aged---my daughter takes two buses each way every day to da Vinci. She loves being so independent (and yes, I made VERY sure she knew her way before I let her ride alone).

For walking your child---my daughter starting walking home alone in mid-third grade. In fourth grade she announced she'd be going to and from school by herself.

Since I don't drive, all of this has always been about mindset---and hopefully, someday we'll see less of a car culture in PDX. Does it take more time? Yes, but during that time I'm able to get work done (on the bus) or come up with ideas, solutions, etc----it's just about rethinking things.

But we both DO still beg the hubby for rides on the days that he's off----so I'm not immune to the convenience bug, either.

Oh, P.S. an even better illustration of car worship:

Back when my daughter was a toddler, I was waiting for a bus (this wasn't walkable, though we did find one later) with my daughter. A man waiting with us made a point of announcing to me that, He did, in fact, have a car (as married, harried mom, I certainly had zero interest in him, BTW). His license had just been suspended because of a DUI.

Because apparently it's better to have a substance abuse problem and a criminal record than to be carless. EEEEEEEWWWWW!!!!

Though I suppose this does bolster the argument AGAINST public transportation (and avoiding such people).

We live 4 blocks from our neighborhood school. I drive my older child there in the morning. Why? Because from there, I have about 15 minutes to get to my younger child's preschool, and then about 15 minutes after that before I have to be at work. If my preschooler and I walked my older child to school, then walked back home (4 blocks with a 4-year old=SLOW!), the timing (which is seriously down to the minute, making for some stressful mornings) would be off. The end result would be that my preschooler would be late for, then I'd be late to work. I ask for compassion...please don't judge those of us who live a few blocks away. I am definitely doing the best I can. Many of us work less-than-flexible schedules, and are at the mercy of not-so-understanding workplace. I love to bike (and walk!), but I don't have time in the morning to make it work.

We transferred to a school that we would have been able to go to if we lived 2 houses down. I cannot imagine walking there, or even the people living 2 houses down walking there due to distance. But a friend of my daughter, who lives about 3 blocks away, bikes every day with her SAH dad, and she does great (she is in first grade). We have tried the "park a few blocks away and walk" as suggested by the school, but by the time I get my daughter to school and the bell rings, I, also, have 15 minutes to get to work. It is fun every now and then-my daughter resists doing it and whines, but then is proud to tell the class during their morning circle time where they all raise their hand to tell how they got to school today (our school keeps track really seriously).

We live an 8 minute walk from our neighborhood school. On days that I take the bus to work or don't go into the office - we walk both ways. We are quite the hit at aftercare with our flashlights, headlamps, flashing lights, etc. when it is dark out. But on days I drive to work, I also drive to school esp. when wet. We live in an area with few sidewalks and near a high speed, multi-lane street, but still walk to school, park(s), library, redbox, minimart, Starbucks, local coffee place, etc. as much as we can.

We live in a very walk/bike friendly part of NoPo and I love that my boys have grown up on the streets around here. I fully support the notion that the route takes on a whole different emotional experience when it is walked or biked. We live close enough to school that walking and biking is totally an option with regards to distance, but I fall into the same boat as many others with the time shuffle issue in the mornings, or even after school. My youngest asked me recently why I didn't ride my bike to work and I had to tell him that if I did, he would have to spend an extra hour in after school care than he already does! So, we walk and bike when we can, and we let it go when it doesn't work for us. I think we're still coming out ahead!

Right now, the kid's school is trying to do walk/bike month. This school is in the SW hills.. even those who live 'close' would be navigating sections without sidewalks and some intersections that may be challenging. When trying to sign kids up, they said that most kids lived too far, but the point was then to drive to within a walking distance, park and then walk. That I do not get.. it doesn't seem to promote alternatives to car-use, not sure what it does promote, other than parking in residential neighborhoods away from your destination! If they want to promote walking, take a walk From school to somewhere nearly...
One thing that's interesting is that because we cross town for school, my kid sees the whole city as his 'neighborhood'. He's not as rooted in the little walkable area around our home, as much as anywhere the car can take him-- for better and for worse. I try to just get out and walk the hood, but he wants a tangible destination and the park won't cut it... so it's often the candy store.

NEMom... yeah, that is like our school. It has 2 campuses for older/younger kids, but school starts/ends at the same time! So there's always the rush to get to the other location in only 7 minutes. And already, school doesn't match with work hours.

I help to coordinate the bike+walk program at my daughter's school which, since it is a parochial school, draws some students from the n'hood but just as many from several or more miles away. Like spottie, when I was first learning, from Safe Routes to School, about the "Stop and Walk" program, I also didn't get it. But they explained to me three reasons that really made sense, and so we at our school now promote this "compromise" approach--of parking 3-4 blocks away and walking in--strongly, and lots of our families do it regularly. The reasons are:
1. safety--the fewer cars turning and stopping at key school intersections, the safer kids on foot are.
2. air quality--idling cars produce more emissions than moving ones; the fewer of these near school entrances, the better the air quality
3. a brisk walk--even a short one--is a great way for kids to start the day, both to get a bit of exercise and to get some wiggles out before the school day begins.

Anyway, like I said, those are reasons that convinced me to be less skeptical about, and more supportive of, promoting a "stop and walk" approach.

I'd be careful about looking down on those that drive to school. Mornings are hectic around here, and we have two drop offs 2 miles apart within 15 minutes. I drop the first two off, and then we generally drive home, and I walk my other child two blocks to school. However, if we are even 5 minutes late for the first drop off, I park at the school and walk my older child straight in. I am sure people have looked at me and thought - WTF is the driving to school for, she lives down the street. But, my 6 year old stops and looks at everything, so when we are late, the only way we get to school on time is to park there. Gotta do whatcha need to do.

I'll just clarify--when it's juggling schedules, I understand perfectly (and I even mentioned sometimes begging for a ride). The parents whom I alluded were not in such a situation. Either all their children attended one school or they had just one child.

I also get that it isn't always possible---just that as a non-driver I've made it work for 12 years (while sometimes working some very weird schedules). Sometimes it's easier to figure stuff out when you have to!

Molly, thanks for the clarification! I like those reasons and we will try to park and walk more often, even if it means rushing a bit to get to work! Especially now that the weather is getting nicer!

My four year old frequently walk or rides his balance bike while I walk to a number of destinations - park, Fredies, library, community center etc. When I recently mentioned taking a new class he wondered if it was somewhere we could walk. When I said no, he wasn't sure he wanted to go. Last week he chose the library over OMSI because he could walk! I'm happy to be able to encourage his love of the outdoors and walking. It does make us feel more connected to our community. We do drive to preschool though as it is a couple of miles away. On occasion I've ridden the bus to pick him up when the weather is nice and it is a fun adventure because it is something different. This summer I'm hoping to work up to jogging to his school with the one year old to pick him up. Just not sure how to get him home - maybe I could leave his bike there in the morning, but I'm not sure he'll be up to a 2 mile ride after preschool. Right now the younger brother is often napping until right when I need to leave if I'm driving, so that also prevents other forms of transportation. When I was working part time I never even thought of riding the bus or walking/jogging to the school. I recognize this is my SAHM time luxury. And that having the option to drive then and now is a luxury as well. I am lucky to be in a location where I can walk many places and have the time to do so, but also lucky that I can opt not to.

I too live in a walk-friendly neighborhood in NoPo. We have lived here since the mid-90s, and between dogs and kids, we have walked, scootered, skated and biked every inch of the neighborhood many times over: parks, friends's houses, the corner market, and, as the neighborhood gentrified, New Seasons, coffee shops and Lucky Lab. One of my favorite new mom stories was searching for days on craigslist to find just the right stroller for our first new baby, snapping up the brand the parenting book recommended, and then finding out that what I really needed to walk the baby around the neighborhood was a basic baby jogger to navigate bumpy sidewalks and curbs. The mom on the next block who clued me in became a close friend, and our kids have grown up together, in strollers, then walking, and finally biking the neighborhood. So, yes, I agree with general sentiment in the OP.

However, having said that, I must admit that I really kind of despise Walk and Bike to School month. Maybe this is because my kids currently attend a charter school that already has a fair amount of judgmental parenting surrounding food, media and clothing, so adding in the pressure of checking off how you got to school seems like one more judgment handed down. I have seen a close friend break down in tears as she valiantly parked her minivan the requisite 4 blocks away and struggled to load up a newborn while keeping the peace between her older kids just so her kids could make the all important check mark that was loudly announced each day. However, based on Debby's first post, I don't think this competitive attitude is limited to just my kids' school. Maybe if it wasn't presented as a competition where kids like mine, who have two working parents and busy after-school lives, end up feeling left out because biking or walking to and from school just isn't feasible. Yes, I realize we can do the 4 block option, but considering the amount of time we are already non-car in our neighborhood, that ends up feeling like an empty gesture purely for the sake of the event. I try to explain to my kids that we do plenty of walking and biking - many weekday evenings and almost every weekend - but since those times aren't part of the school check-off list, my kids aren't convinced that our non-car adventures outside of school are as worthy as the check mark in the morning in front of the class. I'll be glad to see June 1.

I wouldn't be surprised if there is some sort of grant for turning in the statistics regarding how many walk and bike. It's a huge deal at our school. I haven't felt judged by it, and I don't think my daughter does either, but I am not sure about the older kids...

That makes sense... I just wish it had been imparted! Just saying 'you can park close and walk the last bit in' wasn't enough info. When you drive 12 miles, walking a few blocks can seem a bit odd.

I do love to walk whenever possible and do totally feel more grounded/connected/happy by doing so. Wish the kid can one day feel the same, whehter in our own neighborhood or elsewhere.

I was one of the Walk and Bike moms for two years, largely because it was the easiest/quickest way to volunteer AND I did support encouraging biking/walking.

I'm pretty sure the schools don't receive any sort of grant money or whatever. As it was, the prizes (except for the year end bike) were minimal to put kindly (the weekly raffle winners usually got a bandana or reflector)---so I'm not sure really how competitive it was. I think schools encourage it as a community/green type thing.

We were all pretty lenient about letting kids sign in for the drawings, as well. Even if a kid hadn't walked THAT day, if we knew they usually/frequently/sometimes walked or biked, we let them enter. Or counted walking home as credit for it if they had been driven in.

Older kids have ZERO interest in the program, BTW, even though they're the ones who do the most walking and biking (because they no longer require a parent for dropping off/picking up).

By fourth grade, my daughter found it completely dorky and even though she was with me, flatly refused to enter. Correspondingly, the upper grades had the least number of entrants.

How about cutting some slack to those who drive instead of assuming they are too lazy to do otherwise. Instead of criticism how about creative solutions? As someone whose work starts at seven am, I know I will rarely ever walk my kids to school.

When I was in grade school we lived about 7 blocks form school and walked most mornings, but I think my Mom often picked me up in the car. We had moved to the country by the time my sister was in grade school, so were driving then. However, my sister was embarrassed by the family car so insisted that my parents didn't park by the school. Guess she was ahead of the game in parking 2 blocks away after driving 10 miles :).

My mom says I wanted to walk myself to Kindy at 5... and she would follow behind me for a while at first :) I have no idea how far it was, but doubt it crossed any major streets. Portland schools always seem to be by major streets! My kid could maybe go a few places in the 'hood on his own without street-crossing issues, but he has it too ingrained that he shouldn't go alone anywhere- he doesn't like to be alone, anyway, much of the time.

The walk&bike is not competative for us, just they announce each week who has done it. Nor has it been judgemental, in fact, ti's quite downplayed- maybe because they know many are doing the 2-campus shuffle and then off to jobs... it's just an option. Unfortunately in May, it's a busy time to try to do anything new.

Walk and Bike seems well-intentioned, BUT...at my child's school, they periodically give out hot chocolate to those who have biked that morning. I can't stand it. I think it just creates hurt feelings with the younger ones. It's the same as zumpie said--the older ones don't care as much.

I love the idea of not driving, but I don't know if the promotion of biking (and bike trains) is converting bike riders out of otherwise people who drive. I think supporting walking/biking it is great, but the little prizes, the hot chocolate---ugh ugh ugh...it feels polarizing at times and makes my kid sad when we can't partake.

Portland is the most judgemental place I have ever lived. The hot chocolate story made me sad. I have a friend with an infant and she only lives a few blocks from school. During our nice burst of weather she was driving her two youngest since the infant was ill and cranky and while waiting for them after school in her car another mother came and tapped on her window and actually scolded her for driving on such a nice day when she lives so close. Of course she had no way of knowing my friend was coming from the peds office with a ferverish infant and had just managed to get the baby to sleep and was sitting there having five minutes of peace. I guess her kids should be subtlely or overtly shamed as well. Do what you wish and be happy to do but casting it as some greater good or judging those who make different choices adds to the division that eat at community.

Wow, I notice a fair amount of defensiveness from the drivers. The point of both the original post (and my comments) weren't that sometimes (or even all the time) you don't need to drive, but more about maybe rethinking your car dependency and trying to incorporate more walking into your life. I also point out that if I can do it, so can anyone else.

My observations are not about isolated incidents, but about regular behavior that I saw (over the course of 6 years). And not to judge, just to point out that, like most American cities, we're still very car focused, which with rising gas prices and pollution is something we need to rethink.

I can't imagine any of the moms I know (even the ones I don't like) EVER sticking their noses into someone's business like anon mentions. That goes far past judgemental into painfully rude.

As for the hot chocolate thing, making one "sad" is taking things a bit far. Yes, kids get "prizes" (and again, they pretty much suck) for particpating in Walk and Bike---it's called an incentive. It's less about being competitive and more about encouragement. Your kid will be left out of stuff/not have the same as everyone else many, many times in their lives. It's called reality.

If it's really such an issue: 1) (again) having been a Walk and Bike mom, I would've had no issue with giving your kid a hot chocolate if they wanted one. 2) Failing that, why not make your kid a cup of cocoa at home and let them drink it on the way?

I'm sorry, but your comment about if you can do it so can anyone else is so condescending and judgemental. No everyone can afford your luxuries.

My "luxury" of not being able to drive thus figure it out because I had to? Funny, I've never heard of walking and taking public transportation as a "luxury" before.

Again, I worked at a very demanding 50-60 hour a week job (and my husband's job started at 7AM, so it's always been on me to handle the AM stuff)and I managed to walk every day. It was anything but a "luxury" and I certainly didn't mean to sound patronizing. Just again, if I can do it (because I had no choice) so can moms who have more flexible options than I do.

Oh about being connected to your neighborhood: Because we always walke dto the park up the block, etc---we've always known many of our neighbors. Many of them gave me baby gifts when I was pregnant. We all do favors for one another all the time.

Just yesterday I needed to walk my daughter to a party (she didn't know the route) that took me in a direction I don't pass very often anymore...I bumped into neighbors who were all excited to see me again, etc. Because walking creates that sense of community.

Pertama yang ingin saya katakan blog hebat! Saya mempunyai soalan yang cepat yang saya ingin bertanya jika anda tidak keberatan. Saya berminat untuk mengetahui bagaimana anda pusat diri dan mengosongkan fikiran anda sebelum kepada penulisan. Saya mempunyai masa yang sukar untuk membersihkan fikiran saya untuk mendapatkan idea saya. Saya benar-benar tidak Nikmati bertulis walau bagaimanapun, ia hanya kelihatan seperti 10 hingga 15 minit pertama umumnya dibazirkan hanya cuba untuk memikirkan bagaimana untuk memulakan. Apa-apa idea atau tip? Terima kasih!

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