Accidental Activist

Number of Students Driven to School Doubled Over 25 Years: Metrolinx Report

Unless we encourage healthy transportation habits early on, it's going to be harder for our kids to hop on their bikes or go for a walk.

By Ben Bull
Published April 05, 2016

The number of kids being driven to school has more than doubled in the last 25 years. So says a just-released Metrolinx/University of Toronto report outlining how our kids get to school. The report illustrates changes in school transportation in the GTHA from 1986 to 2011.

Among the findings:

This is a worrying trend. Metrolinx is promoting The Big Move, a Regional Transportation Plan which envisions that 60 percent of children will walk or cycle to school by 2031 and 20 percent of work trips will be taken by active modes of transportation.

But we're clearly not on track. So what has changed? Why is this goal proving to so difficult to reach?

The report offers no answers - and neither do I. Is it sprawl? Are our roads less safe? Are our kids getting lazier? Do we have fewer, more distant schools?

When I was a lad growing up in Leeds (cue Monty Python...), there was no lift to school. I had to walk, bike or bus. My primary school was a ten-minute walk, which I did with my younger brother and an older boy. Our escort got 5 pence a day from my Mum for walking ten paces ahead of us, screaming, "hurry up" all the way there.

My middle school was a two-mile bike ride, which was rough in the winter but kept me in good shape. My high school was 20 minutes on the bus.

My parents didn't have time to drive us - not that I'd have had the gall to ask. I didn't know anyone who was driven to school. Even when we were old enough to get our driver's licences, nobody had a car.

Metrolinx reports that there are more than 1.4 million children and youth under the age of 18 residing within the GTHA. "By 2031, these children and youth will be adult commuters who may make travel decisions based partly on the travel experiences accumulated in childhood."

There's truth in that. My kids take transit to school, even though they could bike. "It's not safe," my wife tells me (she's right). Last year I gave their bikes away.

Unless we encourage healthy transportation habits early on, it's going to be harder for our kids to hop on their bikes or go for a walk.

You can read the full report [PDF].

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 05, 2016 at 13:41:12

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 05, 2016 at 21:06:36 in reply to Comment 117461

'biking rates are lower in Hamilton than any other region'.

What, parents don't like their kids riding along fine streets like this??

Imgur

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 17:45:41 in reply to Comment 117472

Yeah, because there are so many schools along that stretch.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 07, 2016 at 05:02:45 in reply to Comment 117492

If you can look at a five-lanes-wide, one-way arterial like Main Street and honestly question whether it is a significant barrier to people choosing to walk or bike - especially with children - I really don't know what could possibly convince you otherwise.

When my children were young, they both attended Strathcona School beside Victoria Park. We had to cross Main Street and King Street every day to get to school and back. Those crossings were by a huge margin the most frightening and unpleasant part of what was otherwise a rather enjoyable commute, whether we were walking or biking. (The other unpleasant crossing was Aberdeen, but the addition of a pedestrian-activated crosswalk at Aberdeen and Kent has really helped to control the high-speed vehicle traffic roaring up and down that street.)

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 19:11:28 in reply to Comment 117499

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 05:57:53

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 06:50:59

So many factors! Auto-centric sprawl, unsafe street designs, lack of safe cycling infrastructure, a cultural fear of biking, and most importantly a trend towards closing neighborhood schools and consolidating them into mega-schools.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 08:12:42 in reply to Comment 117476

I think a cultural fear of cycling comes from the first three:

Auto-centric sprawl, unsafe street designs, lack of safe cycling infrastructure

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 07:52:52

If there isn't a "walk to school" app, kids won't.

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 08:58:39 in reply to Comment 117481

This isn’t true: there are a number of ‘Walk to School’ apps. Type in ‘walk to school app’ in your search engine, and see how many can be downloaded free, provided by different health agencies and others who see the value in children getting exercise instead of being driven to school. This is one strategy being taken to encourage walking to school, but it won't be very successful since it can't address the root causes.

It’s not for lack of apps, and you can’t blame children. Their parents by and large make their transportation decisions for them, and are increasingly taking the (rational) decision not to let them walk or bike in places where it’s dangerous to walk or bike.

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 09:59:46 in reply to Comment 117484

My apologies, what I meant was there isn't an app that will do the walking for the kids. Kids are lazy. Next time you are grocery shopping notice the number of kids that ride in the shopping cart. On top of it parents are irrational. Crime is down, streets are safer yet helicopter parents don't want to take a chance that Colton may get a boo boo.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 10:57:59 in reply to Comment 117485

Old man shouts at cloud

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 08:46:13 in reply to Comment 117481

At least it keeps them off your lawn, right?

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 12:17:58

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the planet...

Take a look at all these videos of children cycling to school in safety, ease and comfort. Where the average age at which a child begins cycling to school alone is eight years old.

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 14:00:23

everyone has already mentioned why parents drive their kids to school: poor cycling and walking infrastructure, unsafe traffic volume and speeds, our continued urges to build auto-centric neighbourhoods etc. as more people drive their kids to school, this increases the risk. roads and parking lots in school areas become jammed with traffic and for children it is especially unsafe to walk in these conditions, causing more people to drive their kids etc.

i would also like to point out the comment that another user made regarding closing community schools and amalgamating them in mega-schools probably doesn't help as you have greater travel distances for most students and much greater traffic in the area as a result.

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By Handle On This... (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 17:19:45

Meanwhile, outside the GTHA, some places have excellent programs to try to get a handle on this...
Check out peterboroughmoves.com/programs/active-and-safe-routes-to-school/car-free-school-days/

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By Handle On This... (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 17:21:43 in reply to Comment 117490

Whoops, I should've just put this...
peterboroughmoves.com/programs/active-and-safe-routes-to-school/
...above.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 06, 2016 at 17:51:23

When I went to school in the 80s-90s, I walked to school from grade 1 to grade 6. Grades 7-8 were at a middle school far away and I took the bus. High school was even farther, and I took the bus, or walked.

A couple of "whys" jumped out as to why this trend of more driving, less walking, some outlined here, some not:

  • Kids who grew up walking to school (and hating it) didn't want to subject their kids to the horrors of walking;
  • More school closures leading to child warehousing schools, which are farther away than the smaller more community oriented model of years past;
  • Helicopter parents afraid that their kid is going to be abducted;
  • People willing to drive their kids to a distant school that they feel "more suits their needs" (my sister in law is like this - lives in Greensville, drives kids to Westdale HS daily)

There's probably no silver bullet. It's a problem with no clear solution, and will require a generational change I think to solve it.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 07, 2016 at 06:27:58 in reply to Comment 117493

the horrors of walking;

Can't tell if sarcastic or serious

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 07, 2016 at 21:48:36 in reply to Comment 117502

I enjoy walking but know plenty of people who don't. Some of those who dislike walking will drive their kids anywhere since they don't want them to have to say "when I was your age, I had to walk to places, my parents were kind enough to drive me". I don't understand the logic, but to them it makes total sense.

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2016-04-07 21:50:27

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By Sad (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 11:08:27 in reply to Comment 117520

That's quite the reference group you're hanging with there.

Makes so many of your posts much easier to understand.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 08, 2016 at 19:12:28 in reply to Comment 117526

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 07, 2016 at 13:01:27 in reply to Comment 117502

every time I put one foot in front of the other I get Stephen King flashbacks....

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By Josef (anonymous) | Posted April 07, 2016 at 13:12:25 in reply to Comment 117513

At the end of Apocalypse Now, Kurtz reflects back on all the walking he had to do to get upstream: "The horror, the horror!"

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted April 07, 2016 at 12:05:17

Why does exercise matter?

Graph: Attributable fraction of various risk factors causing death

This is the same link as in Ryan's Apr 7 Diabetes article, re-posted as it's equally relevant.

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By Durander3263827 (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2016 at 10:24:02

25 years ago there were a lot more small, suburban schools. Every neighbourhood had its own school. The boards of education have closed a lot of these smaller schools down and opened mega-schools, so the five or ten minute walk has become 20 or 30 minutes, and busing and parents driving has become more widely used in response to this change.

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