There was a time when kids walked to school, ten miles up hill both ways through the snow of course. Alas, those days are long gone, and today many children are dropped off at school individually by their parents, especially in the suburbs. My former high school in Oakville was a mess of parents picking up one or two kids everyday despite the fact the school was designated walk-only by the school board; meaning no one lived far enough away to qualify for a bus.
In light of increasing concern over traffic problems around schools and rising rates of childhood obesity, schools are beginning to pay closer attention to the transportation habits of their students. One Milton school in particular is drawing attention from around North America with a full out ban on parents driving their kids.
The Halton School Board’s Active and Safe Routes to School program and local public health officials launched the initiative this year at Milton’s P.L. Robertson Elementary School. Costing the board $125,000, the ban on driving is a one year pilot with hopes of expanding to other schools in the community in the coming years.
So far the idea has been a success, project manager Jenifer Jenkins says that the school quickly reached a 100% compliance rate. Surprisingly, the rate stayed high even as the weather worsened, indicating a broader change in student behaviour. Jenkins also says that some students who qualify for buses have opted to walk instead, so as to join their friends. This implies that walking will become more attractive to students as more of their peers do the same.
Encouraging students to walk to school is part of a deeper issue of invigorating the pedestrian environment not only in Toronto but especially in its car-dependent suburbs as well. The pilot project at P.L. Robertson is a great example of what school boards can do to enhance street life, encourage active transportation and improve the health of children.
Photo by Victoria Amato