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Walk to school for regional impact

Walk to school for regional impact

This year, our family committed to riding our bikes to school with our first grader and preschooler in tow.  It’s hard to justify idling in a carline when we live about one mile from school, but others do it all across Southwest Florida and justifiably so.  As a working-mother, I felt uncertainty about fitting a ride into our crazy schedule and scared of the dangers.  I wasn’t sure we could endure the ride with a backpack, lunchbox, and sometimes a violin.

If you have children or grandchildren, it’s likely you walked or rode a bicycle to school.  Today, and particularly in Southwest Florida communities where neighborhood schools are becoming extinct and infrastructure is designed for single-occupancy vehicles, it is getting more difficult to provide children the opportunity to start and end their school day with some freedom, fresh air, and a little exercise.

Three months into the school year, we’ve adapted to these challenges and look forward to riding together every morning, even in the rain. Instead of piling into the car to listen to the radio, we play “I spy with my little eye,” review the spelling words I’ve memorized, and enjoy the holiday decorations (skeletons included) that are popping up.  My daughter loves to ring her bell and holler “clear” when it’s safe to cross the street.  We enjoy spending this uninterrupted time together, saving money, and reducing our environmental impact.

But we are just one family.  How can we create a community culture that fosters more transportation choice? What will it take for our region to embrace a more robust transportation system that thinks beyond just the automobile?

We think the answer is to recruit others – start a school transportation revolution.  By getting out of our cars when it makes sense, whether that’s going to school, the corner store, or to a neighbors house, we make it safer. If you do it, you’ll become a better driver because of your experience walking or biking.  More pedestrians and bicyclists will make drivers more comfortable sharing the road with these viable forms of transportation.  All have a responsibility to learn the rules of the road.

School transportation is a great place to start.  Parents are wonderful advocates.  They will quickly see the benefits of and opportunities to make walking and biking safer.  Like with other regional challenges, a single person or entity can’t fix this problem.  We have to collaborate and start chipping away at our school transportation problems and create a foundation for improving our regional transportation system, together.

Leaders are taking note of regional transportation challenges.  Last week, the City of Bonita Springs joined the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization, Lee County, and the City of Fort Myers in adopting a Complete Streets policy.  A staff member of the SWFL Community Foundation spoke in support of this positive step toward creating regional change for common good.

Biking to school is more than transportation.  It’s time with loved ones and engaging with neighbors and others using people-powered transportation. It helps students focus because they burn excess energy and get exercise.  Most importantly, my kids cite the ride to school as the best part of their day, everyday.  It’s the best part of mine too.

If there is a cause in your community that you believe in, we’d like to hear about it.  I can be contacted at [email protected].

Tessa Lesage
Tessa Lesage

DIRECTOR OF SOCIAL INNOVATION & SUSTAINABILITY