Town Square

Are we spoiling our kids by driving them to school?

Original post made by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Nov 28, 2006

“Were we bad mothers,” my friend asked me at lunch the other day, “because we let our kids walk and bike to school?”

“Certainly not,” I replied. “None of us were driving them. And the walk was good for them.”

In 1969, about 50 percent of all children in the country walked or biked to school, while 87 percent of those living within a mile of school walked or biked, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection.

Less than 15 percent of children today walk or bike to school, according to the CDC. In Palo Alto and Los Altos, I am guessing that percentage is even lower.

Of course it’s nice if a parent drives a child to school, but there also are lots of advantages in walking. A child can learn how to handle mishaps in life – what to do about forgotten books or lunches left on the kitchen table, how to make friends en route to class, planning after-school activities with those same friends, juggling umbrellas and missing puddles, learning not to dawdle and just having time to think.

Parents drive their kids to school because of traffic issues and fears about their safety. Online reports of a kidnapping in Tennessee now make it seem it happened across the street. So parents want to protect their kids.

But in doing so, are they also spoiling them?


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Posted by Linda
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Nov 28, 2006 at 5:43 pm

Some parents don't have the luxury, or good fortune, to have their children attending the school in thier own neighborhood. Others don't value the concept. But many make every effort to see that their children walk to school. It is indeed good exercise, especially in light of the fact that physical fitness and obesity are big issues today.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 28, 2006 at 10:45 pm

I am appalled at the number of Paly students who live within 10 blocks of Paly and drive cars to school. Just because our children can get their drivers licenses during high school doesn't mean that they should drive the few blocks to school every day - even if they have access to a car. It is bad for the air, it encourages them to use the car during lunch, and contributes to a sense of entitlement. Walking and biking is good for students who claim to have such a stressful life. I wish more parents would insist that their high school kids walk or ride a bike to school.

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Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 29, 2006 at 11:07 am

I feel very strongly about this issue. My children have all walked or biked to school every day from kindergarted to high school seniors with few exceptions. They feel they are the ones who are deprived because they don't get rides like "everyone" else. My daughter is now at college, and I have 3 more, one in high school, one in middle school and one in 3rd grade. I am the baddie as far as they are concerned, but logistically it would be ridiculously impossible to find a method for me to get them where they are meant to be when they are supposed to get there.

The reason we have such bad traffic around the schools is because so many come to school by car. If every student found a method of using shanks' pony for at least the last 1/2 mile to school then our fears of traffic problems would disappear. How would it be if a serious accident occurred when one parent dropping their child off at school accidentally maimed, or killed, a classmate? You may scoff, but to me that is the way it would happen. It wouldn't be an innocent passing motorist from some neighbouring city speeding through a short cut. It would be schoolmate v schoolmate. Ugh. It just does not bear thinking about.

Secondly, I have seen children dropped off at school, walking to their classrooms with breakfast in hand rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. How are they ready to start learning when their bodies are not properly awake? Those who have used their own muscles are wide awake, their bodies free of the "wiggles" and they are ready to sit still and listen, well prepared for the first lesson of the day. I feel sure that the teachers can tell which is which without having any difficulty.

Thirdly, if they start getting driven around in kindergarten, when are they going to start realising that walking or cycling is a means to get there. I have had mothers of high schoolers complain that their children refuse to start walking. They do not realise that they made the mistake at kindergarten when they didn't show their children that walking was the means to get to school.

My children are independent, traffic conscious, alert and savvy when it comes to knowing their routes around town. I find the walk with the youngest as good exercise for me and gets me ready for my day ahead. Also, I really enjoy the conversation, the sights we can see because we are not in the car plus at this time of year, scrunching on the leaves together. It is definitely the best way to find out the kind of day your child had at school and all the goings on of the day.

Please walk to school with your children. You and they miss out on so much of the simple things if you don't. Even if you can't walk the whole way, park 1/2 mile or so away at a convenient spot, and walk that distance together. You will be surprised just how valuable that time can be.

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Posted by GSB
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 29, 2006 at 11:08 am

I grew up in a big city. Elementary school, i walked the few blocks. Middle and High School, walked and rode the bus. Getting a ride to school was a luxury/reward doled out when it was a bit too much snow on the ground.

Kids nowadays get very little exercise. Even walking has been reduced to the bare minimum.

Kids: Put your tennis shoes on and get moving.

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Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 29, 2006 at 1:53 pm

Actually, some Paly students live a fair distance from school and transportation is a dilemma with the horrendously heavy backpacks many have nowadays (that make biking or walking a true strain). Roads like Embarcadero also pose an issue for cyclists (lack of bike lane, speeding drivers, frequent stoplights, etc.). Not all students are fortunate enough to live in Old Palo Alto right near Paly (where, I agree, they generally should be walking/biking to school and in fact one does see a lot of students doing that).

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Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 29, 2006 at 2:02 pm

My daughter, who is now at college, rode her bike three miles each way to Paly for four years and my son is a freshman and does the same. He goes along Bryant Blvd and has carriers on his bike to help with the heavy load. On the occasions when he has projects, I take them along by car and meet him at brunch. My daughter on a few occasions used the shuttle to the end of Louis and walked from Embarcadero to Loma Verde. For her senior year, she had a job and extra classes at Paly in the evening. She cycled to and from her job, about a mile each way, then home in the evening at around 8.00 p.m. She had to carry extra food and plenty of water. Yes, she did complain. But, she is very independent now and is managing very well to get herself to and from college in San Jose and spend time with friends in San Francisco, all by using public transport. She still does not expect to be driven everywhere, and although she does drive, she realises that it is much more cool to be able to do things for herself and that a car would be a liability if she owned one at present.

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Posted by Andrew L. Freedman
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2006 at 2:07 pm

Hi folks,

In 1959, I began kindergarten at the original Herbert Hoover Elementary School on Middlefield Road across from what now is the Safeway (which used to be an A&W Root Beer Stand).

From Hoover through Wilbur Junior High, there was only about 8 times that I was driven to school. One time when I became sick at school in 7th grade and the other times involved massive storms. During the rainy seasons, we (reluctantly) put on the yellow rain coats and rubber boots – and walked or biked to school.

In fact, this was typical of all kids my age back then. We simply walked or rode our bicycles. I played in the band, too, so that meant I lugged a trumpet case, too. We had front and side baskets on our bikes and took them off in the summertime.

As kids, we would - don't take this wrong - be a little embarrassed if we were dropped off by mom at school (and no doubt get teased a little, too).

As kids, we didn't feel there were another options - you either rode your bike, walked, or maybe took the bus. And that's when there were stay-at-home moms (who would sleep in) - hope my mom doesn't see this.

I am not being judgmental about the fact that many, many kids are now driven to school (we did, after all, have more elementary schools then, as it was before those schools were closed and sold off). And there are cases where disabilities can necessitate the need for being driven to school. I am just recognizing that things are different.

Every morning, up and down Cowper and Middlefield, it was like a parade - tons and tons of kids walking and taking their bikes – both in groups and individually. And there was absolutely no traffic on East Meadow. That’s the way it was.


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Posted by Your tough luck
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 29, 2006 at 2:40 pm

Kids have too many after school activities that makes it impossible to just bike/walk.
Honestly, kids these days do too much. It would be impossible to for them to accomplish so much without be driven.
Those who wish to send their kids biking/walking I thank you for not contributing to the over crowding or roads.
I for one will let my kids to "go for it".

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Posted by DJ
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2006 at 2:47 pm

Think about the other side of the coin ... in many houses, both parents work these days. Parents drop off the children to school on their way to work - its convenient for the parent to so, since s/he can head to work directly after the child is dropped off at school.

If the child lives within walking distance of the school and if the parent has a day off - or has the time and the bandwidth to walk the child to school on some days - I bet you, 90% of these parents will take up this option.

For those who have to drive to the school during the morning rush, know what a nightmare it is ... there are long lines at the STOP signs (traffic guards do an excellent job!), there are cops hiding in the bylanes ready to ticket you for going 1 mile over the speed limit, you wish you had an extra pair of eyes to watch out for the kids who may dart into the road to get their ball; not to mention the long line of cars for the curbside drop off. For the kindergartners, parents have to park .. its not easy to find parking around the school during the morning hours --- so give all this, if there is a convenient way to avoid driving, most 'sane' parents would take it up !

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Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 29, 2006 at 5:33 pm


Good luck to you in the future when you have children at more than one school with fluctuating start times and perhaps a child home sick also. Good luck when they reach high school and won't be able to find their way to walk to school without getting lost. Good luck when they get their licence and expect a brand new suv (or whatever is in vogue then) for their 16th birthday.

Seriously though, I do understand your frustration. But it is drivers like you that make the problems. If you could even walk the last half mile together or drop them off that 1/2 mile from school, it would pay huge dividends in the future. What may seem convenient to you now will I am sure become the bane of your life in the future. Do give your kids the healthy alternative and give them some exercise and independence early in life. They will be better for it in the long run.

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Posted by Leslie
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 29, 2006 at 7:20 pm

I place myself squarely in the walk/bike camp on this one. My three boys all walked or biked to Palo Verde, Fairmeadow, JLS or Gunn (depending). Yes, the books can be heavy, but I find the teachers are very willing to work around this if they know that they kids are walking or biking. I have never had a problem in this area.

I like Carol's commnents about the kids being more awake when they get to school if they walk rather than be driven. I have noticed this too.

I do realize that some folks live too far for walking, however the distances that kids can bike increases each year as they get older. Heck, I have good friends who bike 20 miles to work each day! Not that I am seriously suggesting this, but my point is that we should think about how much our kids can do, not how little.

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Posted by M
a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2006 at 8:33 pm

I am a teacher at Paly and I can say that I have more kids late for class because they were dropped off more than any other reason. Kids who drive themselves are also late more often. I've had a student complain thet they were late becasue they live too far. when I ask wehre they live it was within a mile and a half. The parking lot is a nightmare before and after school. Students have to manage themselves more. I agree with Carol whole-heartedly on this issue. The weather is rarely so bad that a student can't bike or walk.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2006 at 10:34 pm

It's great to know that so many people are in favor of kids walking or biking to school.

Also nice to hear stories about the good old days. I grew up on the east coast and walked to school about two miles each way in all weather. I came home for lunch, too. We didn't own a car, so there wasn't much choice. My friends and I enjoyed walking together, so it never seemed like a hardship.

It's hard to understand why kids have to get a ride to school, especially if they live nearby.

A Weekly story about the Charleston/Arastradero corridor at

Web Link

said the following: "Although she lives around the corner on Middlefield Road, it takes Carole Borie 30 minutes to get her son to Hoover Elementary School on most mornings. If she leaves any later, her son will miss the 8 a.m. start bell. The same goes for Natasha Crum. She lives across the street, but drives her daughter to Hoover for safety reasons. It takes the Palo Alto mom 10 minutes to make the short drive."

No wonder we have huge traffic jams around the schools!

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Posted by Hoover parent
a resident of Hoover School
on Nov 29, 2006 at 11:30 pm

>>Although she lives around the corner on Middlefield Road, it takes >>C#### B#### 30 minutes to get her son to Hoover Elementary School on >>most mornings.

This person does live on Middlefield Rd. but is near the Rinconada Park. The person crosses both Escondido and Oregon express. So, "around the corner on Middlefield Rd" isn't really accurate.

>>The same goes for N###### C###. She lives across the street, but >>drives her daughter to Hoover for safety reasons. It takes the Palo >>Alto mom 10 minutes to make the short drive.

Here "across the street means" on San Antonio Rd. Although it would be a pleasant walk once across that busy road.

I think both quotes are a little bit misleading.

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Posted by Mary
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 30, 2006 at 8:01 pm

If you live close to school, of course walking is fine. We, however live almost 3 miles from Paly. In spite of this, my oldest began by biking 12 years ago on her first really good bike, which she had partially paid for. Unfortunately, at that time, Paly refused to lock their bike cage - too much trouble the vice principal told me, too many kids needing to get bikes out to leave early. The second week of school the bike was stolen. After the cheap replacement was also stolen, we gave up and usually drove her. There was no shuttle at that time and no direct bus - taking the bus actually took longer than walking. We gave up and usually drove her and later formed a neighborhood carpool. Yes, walking and biking are nice, but not always the best for every child.

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Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Nov 30, 2006 at 8:12 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Mary -

You bring up some great issues - maybe we need to get the school district officials morein tune with our collective problems (stolen bikes, etc.). From what I sense from all the comments, a lot of parents really do want their kids to walk to school -- and it's an issue we have not really discussed at length in our community.


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Posted by MomWhoDrives
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 1, 2006 at 9:35 am

As DJ pointed out - sometimes parents have no other option but to drive their children to school; since driving the kids is the most convenient and reliable way to ensure the kids reach school for most working parents.

We are a family who drives our kids to school. One parent drops off the kids ( elementary school ) and the other parent picks up the kids from the after school care. Both me and my husband hold a full time job ..

People have raised very valid points in this post - walking is good for the kids, what will happen when the kids are in elementary and middle school (i.e. two different schools ).

I would love to walk my kids to school if I had a chance. There are so many kids walking on the streets, there are so many parents that you get a chance to say hello to, the short walk wakes up the child and gets him/her ready for the learning in the school ... all positives.

But - for me, these additional 20 minutes are a luxary in the morning. Would I let my kids walk by themsleves to the school - ABSOLUTELY NOT. They are sweet and reliable kids ( and yes, they know the neighborhood roads and the way to get to the school and back even if they are driven to the school ). For me, when I reach work, I do not want to wonder if my kids have REACHED the school safe and sound. There are too many wierd people around .. and even if your kid is street smart, realiable and possesses all the wordly good qualities - it takes a minute for a stranger so stop the car and grab the kid. One can argue as to how many times this has happened, there are other people on the road etc etc. Valid points for the sake of argument - but knowing that there is a 0.01% chance of this happening and not wanting to wonder if the kids have reached the school and wanting to focus completely on work - I would rather drop off the kids in school myself !!

Driving the kids to school does not make us (working parents) as "Bad Parents". The 10 minute walk in the morning and afternoon does not quite make a dent in the exercise routine of the kids .. yes, it can add to the exercise time, but you know what, if the child is going to sit in front of the TV after 'walking' home from school - these 20 minutes are not going to matter a lot anyways. Walking to school and back is not the only way the child can learn the street directions .. these are all positives of walking, but as parents we do have to make a touch choice.

Instead of turning this post into a 'good parent', 'bad parent' type of discussion - can we talk about ideas as to how to work with the parents who do not have the luxary of walking their kids to school. One way is to do walking-pool in the morning. Get some of the neighborhood kids together and walk them or supervise them on their bikes to school. As Diana mentioned in her last post, working with the school officials to make sure the bikes, scooters are secure in the school .. any other thoughts ?

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Posted by Hap
a resident of University South
on Dec 1, 2006 at 10:07 am

I have ridden my bike to work for last 17 years, I work in Mt.View it is 5 miles. It takes me 25 minutes the same time give or take 5 minutes as driving a car. I ride Louis most of the way because it is safer. We are a culture that believes that getting more done and going faster is progress. We are addicted to car travel because we have lost our way. Kids learn from their parents what the best way is, and we are leading the youth down the wrong path. We need to wake up. Try and make more trips with your legs and bike. If you do drive park three blocks away and walk. You will see the world in a new light.

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Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 1, 2006 at 10:15 am


I do sympathise and understand. I don't think you are a bad parent and I agree that walking home and sitting in front of the tv versus playing outside as soon as driven home takes away some of the value. However, two points. The elementary schools are very quick to let you know if you child has not turned up. I accidentally forgot that we were starting at our early Wednesday time one minimum day Friday and I got a phone call from the office asking where my child was less than 40 minutes after the start time. It was actually quite scary as she had only just left with my mother 5 mins before, and they didn't actually explain that it was a minimum day and had I forgotten? The other point is that we have switched off our tv until 7.30 in the evening to stop our kids watching during the day. These modern tvs have all sorts of parent controls and gadgets that you can use. It took a while for our kids to stop moaning that they couldn't use their video games or watch tv straight after school, but now they do actually play outside, play together, read or wait for it - do homework, so that they will be able to watch tv when it switches itself on.

Paly now has a lockable bike cage. There is an area behind the gym which is locked with a sign saying when it will be opened. There are other bike racks outside for those who will need their bikes before that. My son actually used his bike for a pe lesson yesterday so he had to remember not to use the cage. But it is working well for him.

As for lost scooters, I do the Lost and Found in Palo Verde, and there are often scooters, bike helmets, bike locks and keys, etc. I also found two identical bike keys in the lost and found, so remember that you get two keys for a reason and one should be left at home in case the child actually looses a key.

My other son, had his bike stolen recently from Church so it seemed, but it reappeared a week later complete with the lock and helmet dangling from the handlebars. So don't give up on "stolen" bikes, they do reappear sometimes.

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Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2006 at 12:43 pm

The PTA has been working very hard over the last 10 years to encourage walking and biking to school. Part of this effort has been to work with schools to provide convenient and secure parking. Progress has been made, but there is a lot more we can do. Some school administrators don't give this issue a very high priority in terms of spending money or staff time. If you really want to help make a change, contact your school's PTA president and say that you want to help encourage walking and biking to school. The president should be able to put you in touch with others working on this who can help you get started.

Also take a look at the PTA's new traffic safety web site that was featured in this Wednesday's Palo Alto Weekly:
Web Link
It has tons of information on the subject.

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2006 at 7:57 pm

I'm sure I'll get plenty of jeers for this, but I drive my kids to school in part because I love the time I get alone with them in the car (and yes, I don't even carpool). It would be nice to think that that kind of quality communication time is easily available other times during the week, but it's just not.

My high school student also plays a very large instrument, so driving is much easier than any other way to get to school. A bike, in fact, is just not feasible.

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Posted by BikerMom
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2006 at 11:04 pm

I'm okay with you driving your kids to school IF...
(1) you never exceed 25 mph in a 25 mph zone
(2) you stay at least 8 feet from bicyclists and pedestrians, slow down as you are passing them, and keep a sharp eye out for unexpected moves
(3) you stay off the cell phone and refrain from changing CDs or passing cheerios to the screaming toddler in the back seat
(4) you recognize that bike lanes are for bicyclists -- they are NOT for passing cars on the right -- even cars that are slowing to make left turns
(5) you teach your children good driving habits from the moment they are in a forward-facing car seat

Though I would dearly love to get back to the days when we all biked/walked to school, I understand it's not an option for many people (and another significant fraction are just plain too lazy). The much bigger problem I see when walking my child to school is the number of cars that go whipping past us at well over 25 mph, the number of moms on cell phones, and the complete disregard for anyone other than their own safely-strapped-in-child. I don't know where DJ is seeing cops, but they never seem to be around to catch red light runners or speeders, and I've only ever seen them near the school during walk-to-school week.

So folks, if you feel you must drive your child -- please drive as safely as, or preferably safer than, you would want other people to be driving if your child were the one out on the road walking or biking.

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Posted by Penny Ellson
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 2, 2006 at 1:04 pm

I'd like to point everyone to a fabulous brand new Palo Alto Safe Routes to School web site. This PTA site offers great school commute safety information for parents. Check it out at
Web Link

There's information on this site for everyone who has written in... parents, bikers and walkers, new teenage drivers.

Some of the info. on the site includes: bicycling and walking safety information, driving and car seat tips, school corridors map, teen driving information, volunteer and event calendars, who to contact to effect positive safety improvements to school routes.

Did you know that we have a PTA Traffic Safety Committee that works with the city and school district to constantly improve the safety of our school commute routes? Each PAUSD school has a PTA Traffic Safety Representative. If you see a school commute problem(hazards on your school route, insecure bike storage, etc.), contact your Traffic Safety Rep (TSR).(TSRs for each school are listed on the web site, too.)If you don't get results from your TSR, contact the committee members (also on the web site) and we'll make sure your problem is addressed.

Palo Alto children get a fairly comprehensive bike/walk safety program in shool, thanks to this collaboration between the PTA, PAUSD, the City and local bicycle action groups. However, what many of our children do not get is PRACTISE.

When children are passively restrained in the car, they miss a lot. They don't get to practise looking both ways for cars, judging the speed of oncoming vehicles,etc. These are skills that really can only be learned through regular, supervised practise. A daily walk or bike ride to school is an ideal time to do this.

Carol's suggestion that parents who feel contrained by time or distance park away from campus and walk in is a GREAT alternative. It gives you the opportunity to walk and get exercise together and PRACTISE those all-important street skills.

Don't miss this opportunity! Practise with your elementary school child well BEFORE they get to middle school because at that age they will begin to tool around your neighborhood independently with friends (whether or not they are walking and biking to school). When they are off on their own, I promise that it will give you great comfort to know that you did everything you could in elementary school to help your child build a strong foundation of skills that will keep him safe.

Also, kids who walk and bike regularly tend to make safer drivers when they are older. They appreciate the vulnerability of pedestrians and cyclists and they tend to be less careless. Further, they already have built a foundation of street skills and an understanding of vehicular laws that they can build on as new drivers.

Do your child and yourself a favor. Walk and bike to school together. It's fun. It's healthy, light exercise that prepares them better to learn. It's good for our environment. It allows you an opportunity to teach and practise good road skills with your child. It improves safety of our school routes by reducing cars.

To start, try it once a week and increase from there. You may be surprised how much you enjoy and learn from the experience.

If you'd like to learn more, vist the web site. If you'd like to volunteer to help us educate families, improve school routes, and collaborate with the city and school routes to make walking to school a safe and fun experience, click on the volunteer button on the web site. We need you!

Happy trails to Palo Alto families,

Penny Ellson
PTA Elementary Schools Traffic Safety Representative

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Posted by Ann Crichton
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2006 at 3:23 pm

Our family loves to bike and walk. We do it at every opportunity and feel fortunate to live in a city that has Traffic Safety as a priority. Thank you City Council and School District for all you do!

I did love (well not always) to walk and bike to school when I was growing up. When in College, my husband and I found it much more convenient to bike around Boston than drive. We found the Bay Area to be another great biking spot.

This is an important value to pass on. My children are developing healthy habits that will last them a life time as they bike and walk to school. They are working towards being independent and safer drivers while understanding alternatives to using a car. Plus, they love to ride their bikes and take pride in going long distances on their bikes (around the Baylands or across town to a park).

I hope that your family looks to alternatives to using the car when possible. There is an adventure to walking to the ice cream parlor, local park, or friend's house. You don't have to bike or walk to school. Discover other ways of getting out doors and not using the car - no matter what age you are.

As pointed out by other people, Palo Alto is a great place for biking and walking. Check out the PTA Safe Routes to School website for additional ideas and ways to make our streets safer for all commuters - especially, our youngest travelers - kids going to school.

Ann Crichton
Active participant of PTA Elementary Scool Traffic Safety Committees

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Posted by Pedestrian
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2006 at 4:39 pm

To BikerMom & others

Just a reminder when you are on you bike. You are also a vehicle. I have lost count of the number of times when I have crossed with the crossing guard and I have been almost hit, or asked to move out of the way of a family on their bikes. Please teach them to walk across the street if they are going against the crossing guard's stop sign. Pedestrians do have right of way. Also, remind them that it might be a good idea to get off their bikes and walk the last stretch if they are on the sidewalk as there are a lot of pedestrians walking to school and if they have one of those flag things on their bikes, please make sure that they are completely vertical as they are dangerous when they are near those of us on our feet.

Similarly, motorists should not let kids get out of the back seats of cars by themselves as they tend to hit pedestrians. This has happened to me more often than I care to say. Parking beside a sidewalk, (not half on it) and using the child lock on the backseats is the best way to make sure you are not hindering that group of walkers who are trying their best to get to school on time the same as you.