At our son Thornton’s school — the name of which will remain off the record for fear of being snubbed at the PTA bake sale — parents drive to the entrance of the school, park and walk the 200 or so yards to the buildings. This constitutes “walking to school.”
I don’t mean to belittle the effort in any way. We have a much better sense of what automobile emissions do to young, developing lungs. I am no pulmonologist, but I can pretty well guess the effect of taking hundreds of cars off campus two days a year. I imagine the air quality is vastly improved.
The other days, however, our schools endure non-stop exhaust from 7 to 8 a.m. and from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. as slow moving and idling cars wait in carpool lines to drop off and pick up the thousands of students five days a week.
We live about 2½ miles away from our school. Not an easy walk but doable. Certainly doable for an 11-year-old on his bike if there were sidewalks.
Unfortunately there aren’t, which boggles the mind.
Around some of the schools are properties that you could safely land a plane on that do not have sidewalks. It is not just one house. It is every home. It is as if a decision was made at some point that the people who lived in these houses didn’t want people walking across their yards. A car flying past at 30 mph, fine. But a person walking their dog, no way. Meanwhile the front yards are crossed with worn dirt trails where neighbors and runners have spent years avoiding the nerve-wracking traffic.
We have to take a few steps back to see the overall value of encouraging more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly neighborhoods and roads. Buckhead in particular doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle all of the traffic it currently has. Anyone who has had the distinct displeasure of riding past a school at 3 p.m. on a weekday afternoon understands this problem all too well. Widening the roads is not an option. There are too many influential people who really don’t like the words “eminent domain.”
Our neighborhood doesn’t have sidewalks except along West Paces Ferry Road and Northside Parkway, but most of these roads are neighborhood traffic. We walk and run and the children ride their bikes and scooters up and down the streets all hours of the day. This allows us to visit frequently with our neighbors, creating that sense of connection that is too often lost in our high-paced lives. Sidewalks are about getting outside and walking, enjoying the neighborhood and getting to know one another away from contentious zoning issues or stilted neighborhood meetings.
We can do more than ask families to walk their children to school a few times a year. It would be a much more lasting impact if we encouraged the building of sidewalks not just for children but for our neighbors and friends. It could potentially reduce traffic and renew our overall sense of community.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.