Exchanging Circles

As I pedaled home from Larchmont last Monday, I took a a bit of a detour through ritzy Hancock Park, since I had to stop at the store on the way home. While I rolled slowly past the mansions and the broad-crowned trees, I came upon a curious sight: a row of idling SUVs at least three blocks long!

It may have been longer, but I couldn’t see the end of it after it wound around a corner.

The line of hulking metal shells took up an entire lane of the residential street, turning it, in effect, into a one-way street for the moment, and trapping the cars parked at the curb. All the drivers slumped in their seats, either pushing their noses into smartphones or simply staring dully through the windshield. It took me a while to figure out what was happening….

It was half-past three, and this was the school pickup line for Third Street Elementary.

Now, although this is, according to their own website, a “high-achieving” school, it is not a magnet school and does not feature any special programs. In other words, almost all the kids are likely to be from the neighborhood—say, within a mile or two.

Easy walking and biking distance…yet there they were, elephantine hordes of nose-to-tail Escalades, Navigators, and Range Rovers. It looked like the parking line for a gangsta rapper convention.

And it clogged and polluted the entire neighborhood. Besides endangering the very kids the parents no doubt felt they were “protecting” by sequestering them in the dark caverns of steel they were driving around.

As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points out, “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children of every age from 2 to 14 years old (based on 2001 figures, which are the latest mortality data currently available from the National Center for Health Statistics).”

An example: 2,136 kids under fifteen were killed in car crashes in 2003, most of them (1,591) inside the car, the rest walking (390) or riding bikes (130), with twenty-five poor kids uncategorized, but still killed by motor vehicles.

Not only that, but it’s estimated that, as in Fairfax County, Virginia, 20% of the morning rush hour traffic comprises parents dropping kids off at their local schools.

Given that kids are getting fatter and sicker as well, from simple lack of exercise, you gotta ask whether continuing to prioritize car traffic makes any sense at all. A little dose of Safe Routes to School, along with regular servings of Livable Streets, would go a long way towards exchanging the vicious circle of car dependency and its attendant physical and social ills, for the virtuous circle of healthier kids, less-frantic parenting, safer and calmer neighborhoods, and more efficient use of tax resources.

What’s not to like? Why is there even a debate over this?

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