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Completing Our Streets


I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

Today I'd like to add to the post I wrote last Thursday regarding safe routes to school.  My previous post was more or less about how the threat of gang violence has made Chicago students' commute to and from school far too dangerous.  In this post I will talk about how making the route to school safer, as well as more walkable and bikable, will help end an equally as dangerous problem as the gang violence threatening our youth: childhood obesity.


As I am sure many of you are aware, the First Lady has taken it upon herself to put an end to childhood obesity in the US.  This daunting mission will take time, but she has started by creating a childhood obesity task force who recently discussed the need for transportation reform.  As this task force has noted, alleviating childhood obesity will take more than altering lunch-line menus, it will take a combination of many things, especially including physical exercise.  And what do children do twice a day?  Go to school/go home from school, which is as good a time as any to get the physical exercise they need.

Besides the fact that school busses and minivans cause pollution, and that the line of parents waiting to pick their kids up from school causes a great deal of congestion, driving is more expensive than walking or riding a bike.  Therefore, making kids walk to and from school is not only healthier, but it's more economical.

Many things can be done to make it so parents are OK with their little Timmy going to and from school on his own.  One solution, as noted by Mrs. Obama's task force, and I agree, is by making all of the streets around school zones "complete streets."  As the National Coalition for Complete Streets website suggests, complete streets are for "everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper."  Making our streets "complete," will increase the safety for little Timmy's walk or bike ride home.  To make these streets even more complete, the bus drivers that will be needed less frequently can become traffic guards.  Currently in many school zones traffic guards help children cross the first or second intersection near the school.  However, with more traffic guards we can help children cross even more intersections further into their walk or bike ride home.

It is true that many factors have added to the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country. Kids continue to play more videogames than basketball games and they eat fried chicken-fingers instead of grilled chicken.  (Speaking of which, in a completely non-transportation thought, why for zoning reasons can't liquor stores be in school zones, but fast food restaurants can be?  These toxins are equally as bad for our health.)  Either way, like many good solutions, a ton of brainpower isn't needed to fix what's wrong, instead it takes will power and proactivity.  Anything we can do to make the streets safer for little Timmy to walk or ride his bike during his commute, the better.  I'm sure we all have grandfathers who have told us about their 10 mile commutes to school in subzero temperatures and up hill both ways.  Well, let's make it happen again (minus the 10 miles and the subzero temperatures).

Go Blackhawks!



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