Finding their feet: children walk to school

Mounting concern over carbon emissions from vehicles and the obesity epidemic are giving impetus to a retro trend: walking to school. Many communities around the world are organising walking buses, in which groups of children living within a mile or so of a school walk in crocodile with a couple of adults, often wearing yellow safety vests.

The Italian city of Lecco, at the southern tip of Lake Como, set up the first pedibus system in the country six years ago and now has 450 students travelling along 17 routes to 10 elementary schools. One route leads through a cemetery and is called -- what else? -- the “mortobus”. The town’s environment auditor estimates that the pedibuses have so far eliminated more than 100,000 miles of car travel and, “in principle, prevented thousands of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the air”, reports the New York Times. The children are encouraged to serve the community by handing out warnings to cars that park illegally and chastise dog owners who do not clean up.

However, car use proves tenacious both in Lecco and around the world. The overall number of children driven to school is rising in the US and Europe. The “school run” made up 18 per cent of car trips by urban residents in Britain last year. In 1969, 40 per cent of students in the US walked to school; in 2001, 13 per cent did.

Among the factors that have contributed to this change is the rise of one-child families, with parents not keen to send a child off to school on his own, an expert points out. Other factors are the rise in car ownership (“Once you’ve got your two or three cars, it takes effort not to use them,” says a British expert), cuts in school bus services for economic reasons, the decline of neighbourhood schools and the rise of school choice.

Parents also cite having children attending different schools, backpacks heavy with books, and the grizzle factor on wet mornings: “Mom, please take me.” Room for a bit of character building there, maybe. ~ New York Times, Mar 27



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