As this great video from Streetfilms shows, around 50% of kids used to walk or bike to school. And this wasn’t in the days of horses and carts– we’re talking about the 1960s– well within living memory! Things have changed. Nowadays, the vast majority of school are bused or driven to school. And as the video makes clear, things didn’t change by accident– we planned for cars, and that’s what we got. Walking and biking was discouraged by the building of more, wider roads, and development in car-dependent suburbs instead of close-in, walkable neighborhoods.
We even see this right here in Princeton, which is supposed to be one of the most walkable towns in New Jersey. A huge number of car journeys are taken every morning to get our young learners to school, in fact, the Princeton Packet is reporting that Princeton Council has just approved a $75,000 project to widen the car drop-off area and add parking at Community Park Elementary. Meanwhile, are we taking serious steps to making walking and cycling easier and safer for our kids?? Excuses come quickly when you ask about where our bike and walking trails are.
This is an important issue, because kids who walk or bike to school will end up less dependent on ‘helicopter parents‘, they will gain the benefit of active exercise twice a day, and they will recognize that the car does not have to be an essential part of every daily errand. If parents didn’t have to drive their kids to school, they too would benefit, by not running an unpaid chauffeur service, by reducing traffic, and by limiting exhaust emissions that cause air pollution and climate change.
We can all help encourage walking and biking to school by helping our kids participate in ‘National Bike to School Day‘ or the ‘Safe Routes To School‘ program, supported locally by Greater Mercer TMA. Looking further out, we have to finally hold our elected officials to account: Where are our walking and biking trails? Why has Princeton not implemented a ‘Complete Streets‘ program, like in Trenton? We will continue to advocate for these sorts of improvements to give our kids back their right to roam.
Did you ever walk or bike to school? Do you think kids in Princeton were more likely to walk or bike to school in previous decades? What are the solutions to getting them using active transportation once again? Feel free to leave your comment below!