We've lately seen a ideas we thought discarded or quaint return to prominence. From streetcars to windmills, clotheslines to back yard gardens, the early 21st century has a lot more in common with the early 20th century than people expected. Another retro move that is taking place is getting children to walk and bike to school more often.
The cost of putting a school bus on the street is approximately equal to keeping a teacher on staff, said Linda P. Farbry, director of transportation for Fairfax public schools.
It also doesn't hurt that the campaign -- especially the "Walking School Bus" that encourages parents to coordinate neighborhood routes, wear safety vests and share escort duty -- fits with the baby boomer habit of reviving childhood practices. An oft-quoted study found that in 1969, 41 percent of students walked or bicycled to school. By 2001, that figure had dropped to 13 percent.
Two years ago, a district study suggested that extending the distance that middle and high school students walk by half a mile would save $975,000 a year.
Montgomery County's school board also explored a similar maneuver to save money, voting in June 2008 to grant officials emergency powers to extend the bus boundaries if fuel prices rose further.
Some leaders think it's a great way to leverage the investments already made.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) said she supports the idea of having more children walk if they can do so safely and said that considerable sums have been invested in trail and pedestrian improvements.
Besides savings, there are all the other positive externalities to health, congestion, pollution and community.
"I think it fosters a sense of community," said Christine Morin, 39, a Laurel Hill parent who has coordinated a schedule with four other families to escort their children to school, including her second-graders, twins Ben and Chase.
Meghan Wommack, 8, braving puddles in sneakers and a fuchsia slicker, said she liked walking, even in the rain, and certainly more than taking the bus, as the kids used to. For one thing, she didn't have to bother with older kids.
The proposed health reform bill recognizes the health benefits in walking and biking and includes funding for "Community Transformation" aid, despite protests from some that it's "wasteful."
Desipite the push for more walking and biking to school, FABB points out that Fairfax hasn't done a very good job of tapping Federal Safe Routes to School money.
[Since 2005], over $13 million has been allocated to Virginia for the program, of which about $7 million has been designated for projects. Fairfax County has requested, and received, $17,000, less than 1%. Fairfax is the largest school district in the state, 12th largest in the country,
FABB also reported on a meeting of the County Board of Supervisors and School Board on this subject.
Supervisor McKay noted that the county was not taking advantage of grant opportunities such as CDC health grants or the Safe Routes to School Program to educate the public and to help build infrastructure.
Supervisor McKay noted that all schools should have bike racks. Dean Tistadt of Facilities & Transportation Services (I think that's who it was; there were no introductions) said that any principal who wanted a bike rack could "get one instantly."
It was agreed that providing Kiss & Ride areas was not the best use of school resources; facilitating parents driving kids to school makes walking and biking less safe, and contributes to air pollution and congestion around schools. As Mr. Tistadt said "This is lunacy. What we should be doing is putting up barriers for those who drive kids to school."
The group agreed to 1. Find examples of successful programs for getting more kids to walk and bike to school, and use those as examples for the rest of the county and 2. Determine where there are gaps in the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and provide funds to fill in those gaps.
FABB also has a post on a Herndon Middle School's Bike Program where students repair bikes which are then donated for needy children within the local community.
Finally, this subject was discussed - ever so briefly - by Tom Vanderbilt when he was a guest on the Diane Rehm show last week with John Porcari and Robert Puentes. (They also discussed biking in Amsterdam and Roundabouts)
Photo by Organic Haus