Tuesday, March 20, 2007
A good test our nation's supposed commitment to public transportation is how we facilitate -- or rather don't facilitate -- its use by our most protected members of society.
This spring break I'm visiting my parents in my hometown of Silver Spring, Md. Every school day at about 3 p.m. some fascinating phenomena occur. The first is that an enormous number of vehicles head out to pick up kids from the local public schools, in numbers far greater than the handful of parents who helped kids home way back when I was in school. This phenomenon -- which leads to gridlock around many schools these days -- is attributable in part to the paranoia surrounding today's kids.
Across the street from the high school, however, another phenomenon appears -- and this one flies in the face of our child-coddling culture. Across the major highway from the school stands a bus stop. Because my home county now holds some school choice, a large number of kids line up for the bus every afternoon. The bus stop is wedged on a narrow sidewalk between the busy highway, on one side, and the parking lot of an office complex, on the other. There is no shelter, and there are no seats for the kids waiting for their bus to take them home. The contrast couldn't be more striking between the students being picked up by their SUV-driving parents and the group of bus-riding kids (largely but not exclusively black and Latino kids), squeezing themselves onto the narrow sidewalk space, enduring rain (these are high school kids, so of course no one has an umbrella), snow, heat, and cold. Why doesn't our kid-protecting society do something to make their waits safer and more comfortable? The answer says volumes both our social segregation and our supposed commitment to public transportation.