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Guest Opinion: Finding a better approach to school dropoff

Graham Middle School students cross Castro Street in Mountain View on Jan. 17, 2017. Photo by Michelle Le.

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 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

The Voice publishes guest opinions, editorials and letters to the editor online on a regular basis. Submit signed pieces of no more than 750 words or letters to the editor of up to 350 words to [email protected]

Comments

ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2022 at 6:21 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Aug 7, 2022 at 6:21 pm

All good suggestions. I biked to school (a couple of miles) starting in 7th grade. It was fun!


Ron
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 8, 2022 at 4:03 pm
Ron, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 8, 2022 at 4:03 pm

Another source of traffic are people leaving for work. For example many Bubb Elementary families use the gates behind the school field or by Bubb Park instead of from the front of the school. Meanwhile this causes traffic jams at those streets in the neighborhood. My suggestion is for a means to help people avoid the area when driving or leaving for work in the morning. I don’t have kids so am not familiar with school schedules but if I knew ahead of time (text, calendar reminder, etc) I can easily change my route.


Jon B
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Aug 8, 2022 at 9:09 pm
Jon B, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Aug 8, 2022 at 9:09 pm

School drop offs zones are terrible for residents, too. I used to live near Huff elementary and it was a nightmare trying to get to work. Not to mention at the end of the day the parents are so crazed after finally inching up the kid pick-up queue that they drive erratically (usually talking over their shoulder to the kid) that I had to honk and hit the brakes on many occasions. Walking in is much safer


Jennifer
Registered user
Shoreline West
on Aug 9, 2022 at 8:33 pm
Jennifer, Shoreline West
Registered user
on Aug 9, 2022 at 8:33 pm

The start of a new school year is a great time to shift to healthier habits too for you and your kids. I got on my bike today and the seat broke! So off to REI and with $40 invested I’m looking forward to getting to school tomorrow… happy first day back everyone.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 11, 2022 at 9:14 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 11, 2022 at 9:14 am

There are several Commons usage steps that local governments can take. (have taken)
Have taken: for instance, the MVWSD and the City have redesigned the very street where Voice photographer Lee took the photo in Jan 2017 (5.5 years ago). "Road Diet". The road is now Two Lanes (not four) and there are numerous Pop Out safe(er) pedestrian crossings. The side near Graham has "protected bike lanes" where the parking is outside the bike lane, the bikes are not directly next to moving vehicles.
Could Be Done: Access of schools / MVWSD / better new access points (cost school bond $$) like rear of Graham through side of empty lot. (see Imai and Monta Loma campus maps via Google sattelite view, or Crittenden's 4-sided walk access)


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