See? It can be done.
Kids and cars are not a good combination, especially when both are in motion, independent of each other. This should be common sense -- you know, kind of like guns and kids -- but instead, this dangerous dance plays out twice a day at elementary schools around the world, when parents drop off and pick up their kids.
There are a few courageous schools, however, that have taken a stance against this ridiculous blend. These schools, located in Canada and Europe, have come up with alternative models for dropping kids off that are far safer and healthier. These are the schools that we should look to for guidance and inspiration when it comes to keeping our kids as safe as possible on their way to and from school.
1. St. Hans School in Odense, Denmark
At the start of every school year, the principal of St. Hans School tells parents at an assembly that their 5-year-olds are capable of biking to school. Furthermore, cars are explicitly unwelcome in front of the school. The Washington Post wrote that "police will ticket parents who dare to park in front of the school."
The speech obviously works because four out of five students in Odense bike, walk, or skateboard to school. This is aided, of course, by the hundreds of miles of bike paths that exist in the city, making it safer and easier for young cyclists to move around, as well as teaching drivers to share the road. According to the principal, biking makes the kids smarter, too:
“Biking has some effect on the child’s character. They get a good result in school because they are biking to school. It’s good for the student’s brain.”
2. Bolzano, Italy
It has been 21 years since the northern Italian town of Bolzano established "school streets." This meant that the streets in front of several schools in the city were closed to cars for 15 minutes before and after morning drop-off and afternoon pickup. There was initial outrage from the surrounding neighborhood, as well as parents, but the arrangement is alive and strong two decades later, with an injury rate that's been halved. Quoted from an informative video about Bolzano's system:
"The countless parents who drop their kids off right in front of the school to ensure that they supposedly get to class safely of course make the situation worse for other children in the area around the school. The consequence is that more and more parents bring their children to school by car to keep them safe from the danger of the other parents' cars, a real vicious circle."
3. Vereinsgasse Primary School in Vienna
A pilot project has recently been announced at this school in Vienna, where it will no longer be possible for parents to take their kids to school by car. Similar to Bolzano, the streets will be closed to cars from 7:45 - 8:15 a.m., with cyclists and pedestrians allowed as usual. From an article in Eltis,
"The aim of the pilot project is to reduce 'parental taxi services' to improve traffic conditions at the start of the school day, when the traffic levels in the roads surrounding the school are highest. The Vereinsgasse primary school identifed this as a major problem at start of the school day, which was made worse as a result of the location of another school close by. The new regulation will operate for a two month test phase in autumn 2018, which will see barriers at the street’s entry in order to close the road to cars."
4. Canyon Heights Elementary School in Vancouver
Frustrated with the wildly aggressive parental drop-offs, a school in north Vancouver decided to implement 'Freedom Fridays,' during which students are encouraged to get to school by alternate means of people-powered transportation.
It has taken a while to catch on, but the message is steadily spreading. One volunteer stands on the sidewalk and talks to parents parked on the curb about the event. The school has also established a 'Drive to Five' zone, where parents can drop off kids within a five-minute walk from the school. This reduces congestion, has more available parking spots, and allows kids to walk the rest of the way with friends. The Daily Hive reported in 2016,
"Since the first Freedom Friday in December, the number of students using active travel modes (walking, cycling, scooting) has averaged 82%, up 39% from prior to the event. At the same time, driving has decreased by 39% to an average of 18%."
The point is, it can be done. Continuing to allow cars close access to school drop-off and pickup zones caters more to the laziness of parents than it does to the safety of children -- because if we really cared about the kids remaining intact and unscathed, we'd ban the cars altogether and expect them to use their own legs to get there.