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Driving high schoolers to school - why???

Original post made by High School Parent, Palo Verde, on Nov 18, 2009

I have been a high school parent for several years and my kids have always ridden bikes to school, or if they had a lot to carry and it was raining I would either carpool or drop them off nearby and let them walk the rest of the way - usually the latter. For them getting a ride is a very unusual occurance.

But, due to the fact that one of my kids has been on crutches with a cast lately, I have had to drive on campus before and after school. I am absolutely shocked by the number of single occupancy cars with able bodied students being dropped off like elementary kids. Even more shocking is the number of parents badly parked in red zones and idling for 10 minutes after school while waiting for their one able bodied child to saunter up. This means that my child who has been lugging a heavy backpack on crutches all over a large campus with one leg in a cast, not able to put any weight on the other, has to fight through cars to reach me in the parking lot at the end of a very tiring day.

The amount of reasons why it is not community friendly to do this are many. High schoolers are quite capable of riding bikes, taking buses, or walking 1/4 mile from a nearby neighborhood to get to and from school. It would then make it easier for anyone who really has a hard job to get closer to school and make the traffic problem a lot less of a problem for everyone. Handicapped stickers take a long time to get even for a short term problem and by the time they arrive the necessity is over.

But, on days when our weather is so fabulous, let the kids get some fresh air and exercise at the beginning and the end of their school day and don't bring them up so dependent on cars.

Thank you.

Comments (35)

Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2009 at 5:48 pm

I agree. Most of Palo Alto has almost perfectly flat terrain, so bicycling and walking require little effort. Almost all streets around town have sidewalks and the intersections all have stop lights or stop signs. There are great pedestrian and bike routes to all the local public schools. Driving your kids to school just teaches them to be lazy. Let them ride their bikes and be self-sufficient.

Some people say that walking to school is dangerous, but let's face it, most of the danger comes from parents that aren't paying attention to pedestrians.

Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 18, 2009 at 6:35 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 18, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Paly has had it's share of BMW driving students
(-much less parents-). Talk about a tough life...

Posted by Simple Solution
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Just show up 15 min. before or after the school bell and miss the traffic.

You can use this arena to vent, but it won't change people.

I rode my bike from Loma Verde/Middlefield to Paly every day in the 80s. But in those days, we weren't staying up late, doing homework because academics were less rigorous then. And there weren't the loads of extracurriculars available. Kids these days need every wink of sleep they can get.

What would really help is if the city bought more shuttles or purchased larger shuttles for Embarcadero Rd. (which gets packed). Then, more students would take those shuttles.

Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2009 at 8:02 pm

I was wondering why kids are getting so obese these days. I guess their parents support it.

Posted by High School Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 18, 2009 at 8:29 pm

For information, I am leaving with my car and invalid child at the same time as always, if not slightly earlier, so it is not quicker than biking. I tried picking up 15 minutes late, but incredibly, there are still many, many cars idling in the pick up spots and my child is hanging around on one leg waiting for me.

It is not about getting an extra 10 minutes sleep and as I see most kids getting in and out of their car hooked up to their ipod, I wonder how much conversation transpires. Also, conversation can happen just as well if the dropoff/pickup was done off campus 1/4 mile walk away.

As the high schools grow into 2000+ students, this is going to make the commute corridors more horrendous. We must get better at carpooling, as well as getting out of our cars altogether, for the sake of every Palo Altan.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2009 at 3:14 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

This is how it starts, the annoyance of having to share the world with all those thoughtless, inconsiderate oafs. Like it or not, this is an automobile society, built around the expanded scope of activity we gain when we go beyond the limits of muscle power.
Rather than rail against the people, better to question the competence of those who failed to accommodate the auto in their campus designs.

Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2009 at 8:15 am

The editors apparently don't enjoy satire and an attempt at humor.

If people want to take drive their kids to school is it really any of your business? Let people make their own decisions about how they transport their families to school. When I was a kid my dad drove me to school in the morning. It was a great way for us to spend a few minutes together each day. Perhaps these parents enjoy spending time with their kids and connecting with them on a daily basis.

Walking a mile to school isn't really going burn that many calories. The bigger problem is the food that kids put in their mouths.

Posted by LAH resident
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 19, 2009 at 8:43 am

Sarah says: "Most of Palo Alto has almost perfectly flat terrain,"

Wrong, many Gunn and Terman students come down from Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto Hill neither of these areas are flat. They come from as far away as 8 miles from upper Page Mill Road and Alexis and Bandera in PA Hills, most of these kids are driven.

And, before you criticize LAH for having kids in the PA schools remember they provide one-third of the tax base in the school budget.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2009 at 9:36 am

we live close enough for my child to bike or walk (which often happens on the way home) but I have some of my best conversations with him in the morning, more then worth the time.

Posted by am
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 19, 2009 at 10:15 am

There are kids coming from other cities, such as students whose parents teach in PAUSD.

Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2009 at 4:24 pm

High School Parent, I love to drive my kids to school and I also love to pick them up. I leave work just for that, to spend a little time in the middle of the day with my kids. I usually have a snack with them before any after-school activity and I return to my office feeling happy. I do work full time and I find time for my kids. I just love to ask them about their day, who they had lunch with, how was the classes, etc.. It is really gratifying this small talk right after school.

And, if your teen is on crouches, you should arrive a little earlier at school, park your car and meet your kid outside his classroom. That you you can help him/her out carry everything after a long day at school. Your kid may be moving away soon (to go to college away from home - I don't blame him/her), so use this opportunity to spend more time with him/her. Just park your car and meet your kid.

Posted by Sarah
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Driving your kids around is not the only way to spend time with them. You can also walk or bike with them on their way to school. Maybe older kids won't appreciate this so much, but I think the younger ones would love it.

Posted by High School Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 19, 2009 at 5:16 pm


Thanks for your advice. I do park in a proper place, wouldn't dream of waiting in a red zone. But, I do not think my child would want me waiting outside the classroom as it would be much too embarrassing and probably spoil the possibility of getting the cute kid of the opposite sex to do the carrying to the car!

I find time to talk with my kids, usually around the dinner table or even while preparing dinner together. Even if I did want to talk in the car, I wouldn't normally go on campus but wait 1/4 mile away as I do when biking isn't possible.

One thing I have witnessed is just how dangerous it is with student drivers, parents, bikes and pedestrians all crossing parking lots and racing to get out of the exits as quickly as possible. Many less cars trying to leave would make it much safer for those on bikes or walking. Remember many of these cars are being driven by students with permits only and inexperienced license holders - not an easy place to gain experience safely.

Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 19, 2009 at 6:32 pm

HSP, I am sorry to hear that you kid may find your presence embarrassing. It should not be that way. You are the parent and your kid should be proud of you. I drive my kids, I go everywhere with them, same way my parents did with me when I was a teenager. That is maybe the main reason why we bond so well. We go places together, we are friends, we talk...

I hope I don't sound rude, because that is not my intention... but you should consider spend more time with your kid outside your house. If you do that, maybe your kid will get used to your presence outside the house and may not feel embarrassed by your presence at school.

I find that here in America kids slowly distance themselves from the parents when they start growing a little older. And they eventually move far away. In the end of life many folks are just by themselves because their kids are too busy with their lives. In many other countries there is no Extended Family, there is just FAMILY, where parents are still a real part of the family of their grown kids.

I congratulate all parents that take time to drive their kids to school or walk with their kids (those who don't work and have free time). I believe your kids appreciate your effort and I believe they will remember that. And I also believe that you have more chances of being considered part of your kids family when they grow old.

Posted by High School Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 19, 2009 at 7:11 pm


No, I don't think you are rude, as long as you don't think I am rude, but I think this is an interesting discussion.

I also am not from this country. My parents did not drive me everywhere, in fact my father used the only car for work and my mother did not learn to drive until we were pretty much grown up. I used to get a ride with my father to school when the school was too far to walk and I had to catch 2 buses to get home after school.

I was not used to my parents taking me very many places except vacation, in fact it was very rare that we had the chance to go out to eat as a family or even to see a movie together. But, we did eat dinner together every evening and spent time together in the preparations and clean up. My friends were often at my home and I often went to theirs, I was not embarrassed by my parents at home, but I don't think I would have been too happy if they had turned up to drive me everywhere as that would have not taught me the dependence I value. I knew how to get about town on public transport, could read transport schedules, had a weekly allowance which covered bus fares and rode my bike because it was cheaper.

My kids are very independent and ride their bikes most places. I know their friends who are welcome at my home and most of the parents. I have spent a great deal of my time watching sports and other activities that they have been involved in. We eat out as a family fairly often and have other family excursions. We eat dinner and prepare and clean up together. My kids do not have tvs in their rooms and we enjoy watching tv together or playing games together. I am at home when they arrive home and generally talk about their day as they get a snack in the kitchen while I chat with them.

I am very aware that they grow up quickly and leave home, in fact I have one away at college. We communicate most days, sometimes by phone, but also text, email and facebook.

I do not think it is necessary to drive my kids everywhere as I value the indepence they are learning and the exercise they get from doing so. When they were elementary age we walked together to school every day and that was something I valued and enjoyed. But, there is a time when the apron strings have to be cut and they need to be less dependent on me.

Culturally, this country is too dependent on cars. I want my kids to understand that there are alternatives to being driven everywhere or even to drive everywhere by themselves. The time I spend driving with my child on crutches at present does have good aspects but the novelty is already beginning to wear off as the frustration we both feel by the slowness of our commute in high traffic situations seems to be our main topic of conversation.

Posted by Moira
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2009 at 7:41 pm

It starts in elementary school where except for a few students, everyone lives within walking distance, yet so many kids are driven to school. It is ridiculous, in the flat suburbs for kids to not be able to walk at most 10 minutes to school. Kids should walk in groups of at least 2-3 starting in elementary school. It is perfectly safe and for those who bring up kidnapping, look at the statistics-it doesn't happen with groups of kids (it also plain doesn't happen in any numbers worth worrying about, look up stranger abduction statistics). By highschool, it is flat out ridiculous to be driven to school except on rare days. My kids have walked or biked to elementary school, middle school and now high school.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2009 at 7:48 pm

We could just agree to disagree - different things work for different families and different children. I have one child who loves to set off on their own and one who loves to be at home. Neither are right or wrong, just who they are.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 20, 2009 at 4:43 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

An old Palo Alto adage - before you criticize another, drive a mile in his Prius.

Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Nov 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm

"I am absolutely shocked by the number of single occupancy cars with able bodied students being dropped off like elementary kids."

The autos are NOT single occupancy if there is a parent and student in them.

"...walking 1/4 mile from a nearby neighborhood..."

Where did you get this number? I drive my sons past one elementary school to get him to the school he was overflowed to.

Posted by robit noops
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 22, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Maybe some parents drive so they can get a little time together into busy schedule. Maybe its so the kids leave at the same time as parents. I was walking to school alone since 1st grade, and had to crutch 3 miles to school when I had a broken leg. I hardly spent any time with my mother during school so I cant say if it makes any difference one way or another, if you don't like it, don't do it.

Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 22, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Hurray for High School Parent and Sarah. I agree with you whole heartedly. I'm amazed that so many people can rationalize a behavior that probably isn't in the best interest of the child. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but for most students, walking and biking are better alternatives to driving. Students and parents need to be weaned from our car culture. Sadly, as somone already stated, I doubt anybody will change their behavior. Give biking a chance. You might find it to be enjoyable.

Posted by ab
a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2009 at 4:46 pm

I started either walking, riding my bike or taking the bus to school in elementary school. Having someone drive me wasn't even an option. I would meet up with my friends and we would all go together. This is what everyone did back then (20+ years ago). And I rode my bike or took the bus to any after school activities like music lessons or sports. I think kids these days are too coddled.

Posted by Snooded
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 22, 2009 at 10:35 pm

A handful of selfish people parked in a red zone and now we all have to jump in and come up with valid reasons for driving our children to school. To drive or not to drive is a private decision and it's no one elses business. However feel free to report those violators parking in red zones.

Posted by Kelly
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

No way!!!
no homework
no stress
no work or exercise
Pampering will work much better. Wonder why kids have these 'i just deserve it' attitude.

i had to listen to " i walked to school in the rain and snow for 50 blocks....."
'i had to go get in the car, my mom was ready to go already. i'm not ready yet, ok, i need one more hairspray application and she is like ready to go. hey lady, you are taking me to school. ok. i don't even want to go there but since that is where all my friends are, i guess the least you could do is drive me. '

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 23, 2009 at 10:21 am

Thank you for chiming in Mike.

I know this post was started about high school students but someone brought up the elementary schools and I think people still have an assumption that neighborhood schools are "in the neighborhood" of people's homes.

We are within the boundary of our neighborhood school and live exactly one mile away. It would take an adult 20 minutes to walk to the school according to Google Maps. Forget my kindergartner trying to walk. We'd never make it. I'm guessing there are people who live farther from their neighborhood schools than we do.

Until we open more elementary schools I think we're going to have to put up with the cars.

Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2009 at 11:05 am

Snooded says that the driving decision is a private choice and nobody else's business, but that is not true. The consequences of that choice affect everyone in the area. Lighting a fire in your fireplace may seem like a private decision, but the consequences are so serious that it is prohibited at times. We are all in this together and our choices affect our neighbors, sometimes negatively and sometimes positively. Please think about that when you are making these "private" decisions.

Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 23, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I think we all generally agree that encouraging more students to bike to school will be good for all. Encouragement should come from school and parents alike, perhaps those who bike to school get some extra credit in PE or some other form of recognition. Bike to school day should become bike to school month or something like that and there could be prizes for the most adamant riders - those who ride their bikes even when it rains, for example.

Posted by Maria
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 23, 2009 at 8:06 pm

I will continue to drive my teens to school until it becomes entirely safe for kids on bikes. There are reckless drivers out there and there are predatory kidnappers. I'd never forgive my self if one of my teens came to harm because I was too self-righteous to drive them. Times are very much different from my high school years.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 23, 2009 at 11:49 pm

My first child rode a bike to middle school and rode a bike to middle school until he was old enough to drive himself to school. My second child rides the VTA bus to school. I used to drop off my second child at school on my way to work last year. Miranda Ave was on my route to work at the time and it drove me crazy every morning with the traffic on Arastradero between 7:45 and 7:55 with all the kids being dropped off at the stop light and bus stops!

Wish school buses were provided to all kids in Palo Alto again.

Posted by narnia
a resident of another community
on Nov 24, 2009 at 8:06 am

I have seen how inexperienced and careless young bikers (and drivers alike) are and how oblivious to bikers and pedestrians many drivers are, specially if they are pressed for time. My youngest is now in college, but no way would I allow her to bike to school. It's just plain dangerous even when they wear protective gear (which many don't). Parents should follow their biking kids without their knowledge for a few minutes and experience their lack of concern for the traffic (for themselves and others) . If a parent can see their children speeding at an intersection, in the wrong direction on a green light for cars whose drivers have no idea at what is coming on the sidewalk, perhaps they would question their wisdom in letting the children bike to school. If they could see their children disobeying traffic laws at every turn perhaps they would understand why it's dangerous for pedestrians, cars and bikers alike to let their children loose on the town's sidewalks and byways.
Sure, they must learn, but every family knows what's best for them. Holier-than-thou attitudes criticizing those who do bring their children by car fail both because such criticism fails to understand the many ways people can legitimately conduct their lives and because it lacks rationale.
Bringing an older child to school produces environmental benefits of just one car on the road and yes, it fosters bonds.

Btw, High school parent should also learn that there isn't such a thing as "amount of reasons".It is a "number of reasons". Each reason is a discrete quantity.

Posted by High School Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 24, 2009 at 8:20 am

Still driving to and from school and will be for a few more weeks.

A couple of comments.

Getting my child to school 15 minutes before the teacher arrives means that the child has to stand on one leg outside the classroom until the teacher arrives, there is no way to get in the classroom early as far as we can see.

There is a chicken and egg situation going on. Many people say it is too dangerous to allow high schoolers to ride bikes or walk so they drive (right on campus) because of bad drivers, but most of these bad drivers are actually parents driving their kids on campus. Eliminate the vast majority of parents driving able bodied single student occupancy vehicles on campus and the bikes and pedestrians would be safer. QED.

There still seems to be a large number of student drivers driving a car pool and unless these are siblings or the driver has been driving with a license for more than a year, this is in fact illegal.

Waiting for 15 minutes after school before pick up does not work any easier as I reckon it takes 30 minutes for the rush to clear.

I know from my child that the police are occasionally outside school giving tickets and everyone's behavior is much different when this happens. Rather than a group of police occasionally at each school entrance, why not have just one police motor cycle at every school entrance much more regularly?

And finally, I have been driving on fine days. I dread to think how much worse it might be when it is raining.

Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 24, 2009 at 8:32 am

Have you seen the way people drive in this town? Every day I see folks running red lights. Several years ago a neighbor was hit on his bike and twin daughters of friends were both injured at a busy intersection while on bikes - another person running a red light who just kept on going? One takes one's life in their hands when they try to bike in this town. Walking may be safer, who knows? I don't blame busy parents for driving their kids. And with heavy backpacks, musical instruments, etc. why not?

Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 24, 2009 at 8:47 am

There are many reasons that parents may choose to drive their children to school, including safety, "invisible" disabilities such as very poor vision (just because a kid isn't on crutches doesn't mean he is capable of riding a bike to school), the need to get to far-away medical appts or internships after school. Just because you don't know someone's valid reasons, don't condemn their choices.

Posted by yes mommy dearest
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2009 at 8:25 pm

High School Parent,

Thanks for sharing, it was ok up until you gave the directive

"But, on days when our weather is so fabulous, let the kids get some fresh air and exercise at the beginning and the end of their school day and don't bring them up so dependent on cars."

?????????? are you also the same person asking to ban gum?

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