We are failing our kids in the way we get them to school

My oldest daughter just started Kindergarten, and when I took her to school on her first day last week, I experienced from my bicycle the way the majority of kids in Los Angeles get to/from school — and it broke my heart.

As I biked my daughter to school more and more, the line got longer and longer — and even worse, started blocking the bike lane all together, putting me at even greater risk just for trying to do a pick up outside of a car.

Here are a few issues with the current “system” —

  1. If we transport our kids in ensconced air conditioned spaces, it numbs them to the outside world. Kids don’t get to have fresh air, get to notice a bird, or a mural, or a flower. By not “feeling” their community, they get disconnected from it and from nature.
  2. This system gives kids zero sense of freedom or independence. There are countries in the world where children as young as five years old bike themselves to school, because the society has made choices on infrastructure that keep children safe in bike lanes. And that gives children a tremendous sense of responsibility and freedom — and teaches them life skills.
  3. This system is inefficient! There is simply not enough road space to efficiently cater to all the SUVs picking up and dropping off children on a daily basis at our schools. I happen to live across the street from an elementary school, and from 8–830am, there is a steady chorus of car horns, people yelling, and general stress in the air as too many cars try to make their way into too little space to take children out of the ensconced child seat and get them to the school gate.
  4. The system places a huge burden on parents. While my children are still relatively young (oldest is 5), I know many parents that feel like chauffeurs — taking their kids to/from school, after school activities, play dates, and many more things. Not only does this not teach kids independence, it’s incredibly tiresome for parents.
  5. It’s not healthy for kids. The US has one of the worst rates of childhood obesity in the world. Being outside and moving their body is healthy, and instead of sitting in a car, kids biking to school could be part of their daily physical activity.

In 1969, 48% of kids biked themselves to school in the United States. By 2009, that number was just 13%. As a society we must ask ourselves what we’ve done, and how to fix it. While LADOT has their Safe Routes to School program, the problem in Los Angeles is deeper than making crosswalks or the immediate vicinity around schools safer. We need truly safe routes to and from the schools.

Imagine if we, as a city, decided to muster the political will needed to make bike lanes that kept kids safe. Imagine if we liberated our kids — let themselves get to/from school — without having to worry about them getting hit by a car in the process. Imagine if we changed our culture to prioritize our kids moving around safely outside of a car over driver convenience. Imagine how much healthier and happier our kids would be — and how much sane parents would feel. This is possible. It just takes political courage.

Vote for people that prioritize making streets safe for all modes of transportation — and will commit to implementing our 2035 Mobility Plan. Sign up at Streets For All so you can be notified about specific projects and candidates that will change the status quo. We owe it to our kids.

Tali, Mika & Sofi’s dad, Katerina's husband, LA native. Founder, Service. Founder, Streets For All. Board Member, Mid City West Community Council.