Monday, August 22, 2016

Stay Alert for Youthful Users of the Street All Year Long

Harmar Elementary School
in Harmer, Ohio
I promised a guest writer today, an expert on road diets.  Unfortunately, he’s still hard at work on his post, so you’re instead stuck with me.  The road diet post, or hopefully two, will run next week.

But it’s okay that today’s authorship reverted to me because I have a topic about which I want to vent.

Most schools in my town reopened last week.  And, as seems to happen every year, many wrote warnings to drivers about being aware of children on their way to school.

Obviously, I’ll fully in support of not running over students.  But isn’t the warning mistimed?

I can’t speak to everyone’s youth, but let me share a fairly typical day from the summer between my sixth and seventh grade school years.

After a slow start to the day, usually cereal while watching morning reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, I’d join a group of boys near the north end of my block for games played in the street and involving bat and ball.  We never had enough bodies for a full game of baseball, plus we had a grouchy neighbor who complained if we got too noisy, but we have a variety of alternatives with which to entertain ourselves until the early afternoon.

As the day got warmer, I’d often ride my bicycle to the nearby pool club, where I’d spend an hour or two hanging out and getting wet.

In the evening, after dinner, I’d sometimes join a different group of youths on the south end of my block for more street play, often a variant of softball that wasn’t high level, but was enough to keep me outside until the streetlights came on.

Now, compare that to my routine when school resumed.  Walk sleepily and sullenly to the corner to await a school bus.  Reverse in the afternoon, perhaps with less sleepiness.

Wouldn’t it have been ridiculous to warn drivers to be alert to my twice daily half-block walks during the school year while letting me play ball in the street and wander all over my neighborhood, on foot and on bicycle, all summer long with nary a warning to drivers?

Some will note that there are fewer children out and about on their own these days, with streetball games almost never seen.  They’re right on both points, which is a separate subject worthy of its own discussion, but I’ll also note that walking and bicycling to school are at historic lows, with many more students getting rides to school.

I know this will be only one data point, but I think it’s a good one.  My wife and I live on a moderately busy street.  Our home is nearly equidistant and within walking distance of three schools, a high school, junior high, and elementary school.  And we see more youths walking and bicycling during the summer than we do when school is in session.

The first day of school warnings are a clichéd remnant of a time that never was.  They’re not a bad thing, but the more useful reminder is to be aware of all street users on foot and on bicycle year round.

Okay, grumble complete.

However, the grumble had the upside of broaching the fact that fewer children are using the streets on their own these days, a problem that many describe as the loss of free-range childhoods.  It’s the topic that’s important to urbanism and into which I’ll dig next time, while still awaiting the road diet posts.

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

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