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Guest Opinion: Finding a better approach to school dropoff

Mei Chan, Las Lomitas Elementary School District's chief business officer, works as a crossing guard at the start of the school day at the intersection of Altschul Avenue and Avy Avenue in Menlo Park on Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Every year when I teach environmental science, one of the first topics we cover is called tragedy of the commons. The concept, first written about by William Forster Lloyd in 1833, observed that the British use of a common field for the community to graze their sheep on could result in the destruction of the field if individuals prioritized their own self interest and put out as many sheep as possible. If each person grazed the maximum number of sheep, the "common," as the field was known, would be destroyed by overgrazing.

Now, the tragedy of the commons is used to describe the systems that result in the collapse of fish populations, pollution of air and water, unsustainable farming practices, the increasing size of cars and SUVs for passenger safety, and many other scenarios where shared resources are abused by a few people for their own benefit.

I posit that the safety of our streets, particularly during school dropoff and pickup times, is a tragedy of the commons. People who drive cars into a high density of walking and biking children are degrading the safety of others for the sake of protecting their own children and reducing their commute time.

Funnily enough, it turns out that there aren't any examples of overgrazing tragedies actually happening on British commons. Tight knit communities undermine the expectations of economists that we will all just work in individual self interest. We can choose to enhance our bonds with each other by making sacrifices for the common goal of safety for our children. We can choose to take the time to teach our children to bike and walk to school safely, and by doing so, actually make it safer for all children to walk and bike.

I know that not everyone has the luxury of time in the morning, and different life situations flare up. So here are some ways we can all improve our school communities as we do our best:

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• Consider picking one day a week (or more) to walk or bike your young children to school or have your older student walk, bike or bus to school. Pick a day where you are least stressed and can support students as they learn a new routine. If everyone who drove their kids to school took alternative methods of transportation just one day a week, there would be 20% fewer cars around the schools.

• Connect with neighbors. Kids can walk and bike independently to school much younger if there is a group. Parents can trade off walking the group of younger kids so that it doesn't have to be a challenge every morning.

• If you have to drive, park two blocks away to drop off your student or to walk them in. This reduces traffic density at the most critical point where young pedestrians and cyclists are the most dense.

I've heard parents say, "Car drop off saves me so much time!" To which I reply, it only seems that way now. All parents will save so much more time if all students can safely make their way to school on their own, and we get to stay home for that extra cup of tea before heading to work.

Silja Paymer is a teacher and a parent in Mountain View

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Guest Opinion: Finding a better approach to school dropoff

by By Silja Paymer /

Uploaded: Sun, Aug 7, 2022, 7:16 am

Every year when I teach environmental science, one of the first topics we cover is called tragedy of the commons. The concept, first written about by William Forster Lloyd in 1833, observed that the British use of a common field for the community to graze their sheep on could result in the destruction of the field if individuals prioritized their own self interest and put out as many sheep as possible. If each person grazed the maximum number of sheep, the "common," as the field was known, would be destroyed by overgrazing.

Now, the tragedy of the commons is used to describe the systems that result in the collapse of fish populations, pollution of air and water, unsustainable farming practices, the increasing size of cars and SUVs for passenger safety, and many other scenarios where shared resources are abused by a few people for their own benefit.

I posit that the safety of our streets, particularly during school dropoff and pickup times, is a tragedy of the commons. People who drive cars into a high density of walking and biking children are degrading the safety of others for the sake of protecting their own children and reducing their commute time.

Funnily enough, it turns out that there aren't any examples of overgrazing tragedies actually happening on British commons. Tight knit communities undermine the expectations of economists that we will all just work in individual self interest. We can choose to enhance our bonds with each other by making sacrifices for the common goal of safety for our children. We can choose to take the time to teach our children to bike and walk to school safely, and by doing so, actually make it safer for all children to walk and bike.

I know that not everyone has the luxury of time in the morning, and different life situations flare up. So here are some ways we can all improve our school communities as we do our best:

• Consider picking one day a week (or more) to walk or bike your young children to school or have your older student walk, bike or bus to school. Pick a day where you are least stressed and can support students as they learn a new routine. If everyone who drove their kids to school took alternative methods of transportation just one day a week, there would be 20% fewer cars around the schools.

• Connect with neighbors. Kids can walk and bike independently to school much younger if there is a group. Parents can trade off walking the group of younger kids so that it doesn't have to be a challenge every morning.

• If you have to drive, park two blocks away to drop off your student or to walk them in. This reduces traffic density at the most critical point where young pedestrians and cyclists are the most dense.

I've heard parents say, "Car drop off saves me so much time!" To which I reply, it only seems that way now. All parents will save so much more time if all students can safely make their way to school on their own, and we get to stay home for that extra cup of tea before heading to work.

Silja Paymer is a teacher and a parent in Mountain View

Comments

Parent
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 8, 2022 at 11:32 am
Parent, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Aug 8, 2022 at 11:32 am

I love to support walking and biking to school, but we need to make this a city priority and not just ask for parents to make individual choices. We need sidewalks and bike lanes for walking or biking to be a safe choice. Even kids traveling in groups can be unsafe -- sometimes especially unsafe given that they can feel safer, but yet make worse decisions based on the group misbehavior / poor-decision making of kids (which is very normal for kids; we can't expect them to be as responsible as adults when they're only 12 or 15).

In our neighborhoods, a majority of the cars that are dangerous for the kids walking and biking to school aren't driven by parents -- they're just folks driving to or from work, shops, home, etc. A few parents making different decisions isn't going to move the needle on the safety of the streets.


Michael
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 10, 2022 at 7:51 am
Michael, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Aug 10, 2022 at 7:51 am

We need to insist on separated multimodal infrastructure. We can use the phenomenon of induced demand to our advantage and demand the mode we want. There are plenty of roads that could be dedicated to prioritize people over cars, it’s not rocket science on how to achieve it. #waroncars


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