Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Walking to School: Saving Energy and Expending It

Today kids are supposed to walk to school—it’s International Walk to School Day. It's a good idea, the way that the carless-in-the-city day a couple of weeks ago was. Publicity seems to be the only way things ever get done.

But the problem with today, as with the carless day, is that probably tomorrow far too many kids will be back in the minivan or SUV. According to relatively recent statistics (2001 survey of households in the US,) only 16 per cent of Americans five to 18 years of age walk or bike any distance to school, down from 42 per cent in 1969. The statistics in Canada may be somewhat better because our big cities are denser which makes walking easier. Walk past an elementary school any morning, though, and you’ll see a cavalcade of kids being driven to school.

Growing up, we weren't driven. Mapquest says the distance from our house in San Diego to the elementary school was 1.02 miles, and we all walked it. Our houses were set on 60 by 100 foot lots, so the neighborhood wasn’t particularly dense, but given the demographics of the time, we had company on our walks. That undoubtedly made it both more fun and safer.

Things are different today—schools may gather their students from a much wider area because of the lower number of children of school age, kids may be bused for any number of reasons, television’s “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality gives the impression that our streets are much less safe than they once were. There probably is merit in not expecting kids who live more than a couple of miles from school to get there either on foot or by bike, but they don't account for less than half of kids in school. The others should walk or bike, at least some of the time. A child who walks to school is going to be a child who is more physically fit—and probably less high-strung in class because he or she will have walked off some of the energy kids seem sometimes to have in excess.

Ah, yes, energy. It always comes back to that, doesn't it?

Photo of kids on their way to École Nouvelle Querbes and École Buissonière. My kids walked to the former. Distance: .6 kilometeer or .4 mile. Close proximity to schools was one of the reasons we bought our house.

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