I’m new to being a school-age kid’s parent and doing the school run. I’ve spent five years without worrying about the politics of the school zone pick-ups and drop-offs.
While our school has a good representation of walkers, fewer bikers and school bussers, there’s still a good chunk that arrive by car. This isn’t a pointing fingers post. It is what it is. These travel choice result in similar transportation conflicts that are played out at schools across Ottawa.
To reduce conflicts directly in front of our school, there are (new) speed bumps and no parking zones.
These measures help by:
- keeping an area free for school buses to arrive
- protecting people who are crossing the street from appearing to “pop out” from between parked cars (applies equally to all modes – even drivers and passengers need to cross the street)
- creating a less chaotic and pleasant space (ex: reduced U-turns).
The most contentious part of the school travel planning exercise is limiting parking on the school block. Frequent messages in the school newsletter and by-law enforcement have yet to curb the “bad behaviour”.
But, I’m a good driver. What’s the problem?
With almost complete certainty, no parent driving to school intends to harm other children. They can safely operate a vehicle, park and negotiate a quick U-turn with no harm done. Where “harm” is limited to physically hurting someone with a vehicle. There are, of course, other subtler “harms”.
Despite calls to park at the end of the block and walk to preserve an enhanced traffic calmed street at peak times, the lure of “space to park” becomes overhwhelming for many (especially when running late). What harm does it do? I’ll just be a minute. (Does pushing the vehicle drop-off zone simply move the problem to another area? Perhaps it does.)
Expectations attached to our mode of travel
The more I think about it, what seems to be a simple request to obey signed no parking zones, actually bears a larger connection to the expectations we have about our mode of transportation.
For example, as a frequent biker, I expect a bike rack to be near the entrance of my destination. As a walker, I expect my route to be as direct as possible. There are also expectations associated with driving. And in the school zone scenario, we are asking those users to put aside their expectations.
Fundamentally, we own cars for the convenience they offer to go from our homes to a destination directly. And many of the parents, who are my age, have grown up in an era where you could realisticaly (and reliably) drive from A to B, park in front of your destination (or as close as you could get) and go about your business. No one complained.
But now, we’re asking people to put aside the convenience of the (primary?) mode of transportation to school to create a safer (or at least a feeling of being safer) environment for students and parents who walk, bike or bus. Because, we want more people to walk and bike. And we want it to be a pleasant, attractive and safe option.
It’s hard to let go of our expectations for total convenience when driving.
At a city level, we have agreed, through our city’s official plan that active transportation and public (or school bus in this case) transportation are priorities. They’re good for the health of students, pollution levels and the liveability of our communities.
But can you change a deep-rooted behaviour through words and signs? The denial of not being part of the problem is strong. Not to mention the belief that the safe operation and parking of thousand pound vehicles does not impinge on the safety of others.
How do you say to someone,
“Look, I know there looks like there is space here, but you can’t treat it like a Kanata garage and just fill it up with sports equipment and lawnmowers, you need to leave some space for your car or you’ll have to park in the snowy driveway.”
If you fill up your garage with junk, you won’t have space for what the garage was designed for.
What are our streets designed for?
Not every space on the street should be for the sole use by motor vehicles. The street is a public good. A public space. And we must manage this public space in a way that is safe and in a way that fosters behaviours we desire (ex: less speeding and more active transportation).
Which makes me think that if these “empty” spaces are meant for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and students arriving by bus, they should be physically claimed as such.
The school bus zone should be marked in paint on the street.
The no parking areas should have physical bollards to mark the space.
It’s not heavy handed. It’s a solution that works because words and signs do not. When there is an absence of choice, the desired result is more likely to be achieved.
Seriously, stop parking in the no parking zones.
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