Thursday, 4 December 2008

Who's Walking to School These Days? Less Than a Third of Quebec Youngsters, Study Suggests

Only 30 percent of Quebec elementary school children walk to school, and of those who do, eighty per cent live less that 600 meter (less than half a mile,) a new Quebec study suggests. Paul Lewis, professor of urbanism at the University of Montreal's school of urban studies, led the research group, which interview parents of 1495 children attending 67 schools in central areas and suburbs of Montreal and Trois-Rivières.

The difference with the results of a similar study done in 1971 are striking. Then 80 per cent of kids aged 7 and 8 walked to school. Among the reasons for the big change, Lewis and his group name increased urban sprawl, greater numbers of parents who drop their kids off on their own way to work, and the increasing practice of choosing a school outside the neighborhood.

The figures aren’t a big surprise to anyone who has passed an elementary school just before the bell rings. The line of cars stopped to let kids out is frequently long. Even in a neighborhood like ours where public transportation is good, many people bicycle well into winter, and walking to work isn’t hard for many, Fairmount Avenue is snarled for a good half hour every morning as the parade of SUVs wait to discharge the next generation attending the two schools on the street.

The effect on the physical fitness of children is great, the group says. It suggests making school zones safer, as well as campaigns to convince parents of the importance of walking as exercise. Parents should set the example, the researchers insist. “Mothers and fathers should set an example for their children by having at least one parent walk or use public transit to commute,” insists. the press release announcing the study’s results .

That’s a good idea which may work in intrinsically walkable neighborhoods, but in suburbs the impact is bound to be much less. Densifying sprawl is part of the answer there, but more about that later.

Photo: On the next street in our walkable neighborhood, a steady stream of parents and children walk to school--but even here a lot of parents drive their SUVs to drop their kids off before they continue to work.

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