Lake County Motorist

Suburban Chicagoland commuter and motorist weblog

A better way to get to school

On March 6, Gov. Blagojevich announced the Safe Routes to School program. The program is “designed to encourage walking and biking; promoting a healthier, more active lifestyle for children in grades K-8”.

The announcement came on the heels of a Chicago Tribune article by Jon Hilkevich highlighting the side effects of unsafe walking routes to school in the suburbs. Some suburban schoolchildren are being bused distances as short as a few blocks, due to a lack of safe pedestrian crossings at busy roads.

What options do children and parents have to ensure safe passage between home and school? Here are three that come to mind:

  1. Parents could drive their children to school, however from an environmental perspective this is even less ideal than busing them for a few blocks. More cars on the road, more cars standing on the streets waiting to drop off kids – not the ideal solution.
  2. Parents could walk with their children to cross the busy streets, however this still does not solve the problem of pedestrian-hostile crossings. A similar proposal would be the use of multiple adult crossing guards, which would aid in pedestrian safety and visibility but still raises issues of stopping traffic and increasing motorist delays.
  3. Municipalities (local, county, state) could install traffic calming devices such as stop signs with flashing lights mounted atop, or traffic signals that change only when a pedestrian presses a switch (I know of one such light that is green all the time unless a pedestrian requests to cross). The disadvantage of this option is the cost of installing such devices vs. the costs for the previous two options.

I support exploring options that create safe crossings and increase neighborhood walkability. I don’t know all of the solutions, because each school crossing and other pedestrian use situation will be different. However, I think pedestrian use should be incorporated into more road development plans, especially those that involve mixed-use areas. It’s the smarter way to grow.

Updated 5/19/08: Corrected program name to “Safe Routes to School”

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