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Riding a Virtual School Bus

A struggling neighborhood in San Francisco is using a “virtual school bus” to get students to class on time. It’s a model that may have application in other places.

After half a century, my memory may be fallible, but my recollection is that I walked to school, without parental accompaniment, for much of my first grade year. My parents didn’t trust me to walk completely alone, so hooked me up with a third-grade girl who lived nearby. Not only did I walk to school without a parent watching over me, but I did it with a cute third grader, an older woman. It was a good school year.

Nor was the walk particularly short. Both the house and the school still survive, although neither has aged well. According to Google Maps, it’s 0.6 miles between the two. And the route crosses an arterial that was busy even in 1959. (A crossing guard may have been involved.)

I mention this because the world has changed a lot since my first grade year.

My wake-up call came in the early 1990s when the facilities manager for an Oregon school district sought my assistance in redesigning the traffic circulation at an elementary school. His problem was that the queue of parents picking up children was interfering with school bus arrivals and departures.  I was astonished that many children received rides despite living closer than I had in my elementary school years, but site observations quickly confirmed the facility manager’s concern.

Today, I live in a neighborhood within a short walk of elementary, junior high, and high schools. When my wife and I first moved in, we were shocked at how few students we saw on the streets. In my subjective assessment, walking and bike-riding to the schools have increased since the initial observations. But the traffic queues for all three schools are still long around the opening and closing bells.

There are a number of factors behind driving students to school becoming the default expectation, among them poorly located schools, the affluence to afford non-essential car trips, and largely overblown concerns about crime. Sometimes the extent to which kids are driven to school results in absurd situations such as a father being arrested for trying to collect his kids on foot.

As an urbanist, the trend to drive children to school is distressing. It robs our children of the chance to learn to navigate on foot and teaches them to fear the streets. And ultimately it’s a trend that is unsustainable.

As an alternative, consider the virtual bus being used in a San Francisco neighborhood. Acting like a bus without a motor, wheels, or seats, a group of school children with an adult as the “driver” follow a fixed route through a neighborhood, collecting “passengers” and delivering them to school.

In San Francisco, the concerns are truancy and tardiness, but the virtual bus approach could seemingly be applied to the safety concerns of other communities, while also providing morning exercise and social interaction.

I like the idea a lot. Almost enough that I would have been willing to give up the one-on-one time with my third-grade girlfriend those many years ago.

Notes

Petaluma Urban Chat: After the big build-up to the meeting about City Repair Petaluma in November, it’s hard to believe that another month has passed. But the monthly meeting of Urban Chat is scheduled for next Tuesday, December 10.

Returning to our regular meeting place and time, we’ll convene at 5:30 at the Aqus Cafe at 2nd and H Streets. The discussion will begin at 5:45.

For the first time since early summer, we don’t have a speaker scheduled, so we’ll return to our study of “The Smart Growth Manual” by Duany, Speck, and Lydon. All are welcome. Even if you haven’t read the book, you should enjoy the discussion.

Holiday Season Blogging: As I noted several posts ago, this week is the beginning of year three of this blog. Three posts per week for over a hundred weeks. I still have many topics about which to write. And I still enjoy the effort. But the time to write and to polish, especially during the holiday season, can feel insufficient. So I’m going to try something a little different over the next few weeks

In 2007, I spent two weeks in Venice, Italy, perhaps the most famous car-free city in the world. During my time there, I took many, many photos and begin assembling my thoughts about being a stranger in a remarkable place.

Unfortunately, upon my return to the North Bay, real life intervened and I didn’t finish cataloguing my photos or writing my thoughts. I’m now going to impose on your goodwill by doing those tasks here in my blog.

Every Friday post during December, and likely continuing into the New Year, will be my thoughts and photos about Venice, with a particular emphasis on the urbanism lessons to be learned. My next post will cover trip planning and arrival.

I know that sharing vacation stories and photos is often among the more boorish behaviors possible. But I’ll try to exceed that low expectation.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at Where Do We Go from Here. He can also be followed on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and VibrantBayArea.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Wire December 05, 2013 at 05:47 PM
Dave: There are a number of factors behind driving students to school becoming the default expectation, among them poorly located schools, the affluence to afford non-essential car trips, and largely overblown concerns about crime. Sometimes the extent to which kids are driven to school results in absurd situations such as a father being arrested for trying to collect his kids on foot.***** You forget broken families are a reason for a parent driving their child to school, then using the school as a babysitter. I counted 75 cars on one side of the street picking up their kid or kids. All about morals, responsibility, and respect. Things that are lost in URBANISM. lIKE THAT YOUTUBE VIDEO IN SECTION EIGHT HOUSE PROJECT THAT LOOKS LIKE YOUR EVERYDAY URBANISM HOUSING. The secret of give me society.

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