Monday, August 20, 2012

Week of 08/20/2012

Not Safe For Pedestrians
– by David Matthews 2

I remember when I went to school in both Connecticut and New Hampshire of two things:

First was that I hated the big yellow kid-pool service known simply as “The Bus”. Or, as one obnoxious and overbearing neighbor used to call it, “BUUUUUUS!”

I hated the school bus, mostly because of the people on it. Kids used to torment me relentlessly and I was not allowed to pound them into oblivion simply because they refused to allow me to sit down next to them.

That led to the second thing about going to school, which was that I loved it when I would be able to ride my bike to and from there. I couldn’t do it all the time, and certainly not in the winter, but as soon as the weather allowed it, I was riding my bike instead of waiting around for the yellow torment machine.

Of course, it wasn’t really safe. Even when I followed the rules of the road, the roads in those little towns were never meant for bikes. Still, they were put in with plenty of room for a bike rider to use without putting himself or herself in too much danger.

The same, however, cannot be said of roads here in the Southeastern United States.

A basic fact of America’s roads since at least World War II is that they were never really designed for anything except automobiles. While many of them came from old horse trails, today’s roads are designed, graded, and leveled primarily for cars and trucks. You can see this with the amount of “shoulder” they give for certain roads. In many places here in Georgia, you’re lucky if there’s enough road for two vehicles, never mind two semi-tractor trailer trucks, never mind provide any kind of “shoulder” if there’s a problem with a vehicle and you have to pull it aside. And while many suburban and urban areas will have some kind of sidewalk for pedestrians, that kind of consideration is not even an afterthought for most rural areas.

No, if Mister and Missus America want their precious little Johnny Dimple and Suzy Purebred to go to school, there’s really only two choices for them: drive the kids to school themselves and cause the systematic traffic jams that everyone hates, or have them take the big yellow “kid-pool” service, which the kids hate. Neither are really good choices.

In fact it is the source of much of Atlanta’s commuter misery year-in and year-out. Traffic becomes a problem only when school is in, and it stops being a problem during the various holidays and summer vacation.

So one has to wonder what school officials in the greater Metro-Atlanta area were thinking – if at all – when they decided to tell all the kids that live at least a mile from their schools that they now have to find some other way to get there besides the bus. Be it inside the City of Atlanta, or the suburbs, or even in the nearby rural areas, the school boards all seem to come to the decision that bus service should be only for the kids that live outside of a mile from the school (or even a mile-and-a-half for teens).

Bear in mind that the original decision was actually made years ago, but that school boards went ahead and allocated for the extra service anyway. But with school budgets shrinking thanks to the still-ongoing Great Recession, these local school leaders decided to discontinue the “convenience”, catching some parents completely unaware that they now had to drive their kids to school or else had them walk like the so-called “good old days”.

Now I could understand and appreciate the arguments that they could make about this decision. They could point to the waste of taxpayer money to have kids that are only two blocks away getting a bus ride. They could point to obesity numbers to say that the kids need some kind of exercise every day. Walking to and from school would certainly help.

There’s just one inherent flaw in any rationality they could come up with in telling the kids to “hoof” it: unless there’s a sidewalk, or unless you’re ready for even more traffic in that one-mile radius, the roads in Georgia are simply not safe for pedestrians.

Let’s get brutally honest here… these school boards are just inviting danger by having the kids walk to and from school, because Georgia roads are not equipped for anything except cars and trucks!

Believe me, I would otherwise be all for this decision if not for that simple reality about the roads here in Georgia. If every school had sidewalks within a two-mile radius, that would be one thing. Then I’d say “Get-a-steppin’”! If every road leading to and from schools had at least an eight-foot shoulder on each side, then I could go along with the decision and suggest even riding a bike. But these things don’t exist for most rural areas.

Urban parents worry about their kids having to walk past areas that could have hookers and drug dealers and gang – oh my! I’m sure those are legitimate threats, but those are far more manageable than the dangers of suburban and rural pedestrian travel.

How about having your kids walk along the side of the road barely wide enough for a normal vehicle to travel on, with a steep drainage ditch on the side that normally isn’t mowed and could have anything between broken glass, rats, and snakes hiding underneath? How about walking past yards where the neighborhood dog roams free and may or may not have a violent past? How about the semi driver trying to complete his all-nighter, hitting a turn and not seeing your kid until it’s too late? How about the working mother in the urban assault vehicle trying to rush her kids to daycare before going to work, with half her mind on her cellphone, half her mind telling her kids to shut up and watch the “Spongebob Squarepants” DVD, and none of her mind on who would be walking alongside the same road she’s on?

Hookers, dealers, and gangs can be managed. The over-stressed suburban mother in the SUV, not so much.

Speaking of which, now that you’ve eliminated the taxpayer-funded “kid-pool” service, guess what that means to parents that live inside that “no bus” range? If they don’t want their kids to get turned into roadkill, then it means that they have to drive those kids to school themselves. That adds to your traffic problem, and I have seen first-hand just how bad that can get when you have impatient parents being pressured to chauffeur their kids about.

And by the way, why should their taxes go to pay for a bus service that they will not be able to use? Why is their tax money subsidizing a convenience that they themselves are not able to use for their children by matter of geography? How long do you think it will take before some of your “Tea Party” people start asking that particular question? You want to split hairs about the budget? Trying to determine which family should pay for the bus service should be a real hum-dinger!

I know the budget-conscious officials will start screaming about where the tax money would come from to pay for that continued bus service, but I wonder if those same officials have also taken into account how much money they would have to fork over in insurance and legal costs if one of those new pedestrians end up getting maimed or killed while walking to or from school? All it takes is one bad driver to ruin your precious education budget, especially should the news come out that the only reason why that student was being put in harm’s way in the first place is because some school politician decided to cut the budget for bus service.

And, believe me, neither a grieving parent nor the local media would limit pointing the finger of blame on just the bad driver.

This subject is part of several larger problems that are systematically not being addressed. The continual economic death spiral from the Great Recession is only hastening the issue. A much larger problem deals with the roads and our over-dependence on gas-powered vehicles and not putting any emphasis on alternative methods of transportation such as walking or bicycles. Unless state and local officials are willing and capable of dealing with that situation first, then school officials here in Georgia are, in this commentator’s opinion, engaging in criminally negligent behavior by making these kinds of mindless financial decisions. And should that reckless decision result in tragedy, those officials should be singled out and be made to shoulder the full burden of accountability for it. “Sovereign Immunity” be damned!

“The Bus” may suck, but it gets the kids to school, and it is a better alternative than playing Russian Roulette with motorists that are only looking out for themselves.

No comments: