One Dad’s Twitter Photo Essay on His Daughter’s Perilous Walk to School

“So who’s up for a long rant/photo-essay about kids walking to school and urban design on this fine back-to-school Thursday morning?” asked Canadian author and journalist Chris Turner on Twitter this morning. And so began a numbered tour of the hazards encountered on his 9-year-old daughter’s walk to school.

It was partly inspired by this Yehuda Moon cartoon:

cartoon

But Turner wasn’t satisfied with the cartoon’s cheeky conclusion that parents are making bad decisions. “Too often, these discussions blame PARENTS,” he tweeted, “not URBAN DESIGN.”

To illustrate his point, he tweeted “a photo primer in how urban design in an inner-city community encourages parents not to even think about letting their [kids] walk.”

By the way, Turner’s daughter is trying out the walk to school because the 18-block journey, which takes six to eight minutes in a car, takes 55 minutes on the school bus. She’s the first on and the last off, commuting two hours a day to get 18 blocks. It takes half an hour to walk it. Last year, her parents drove her every day, but now they’re trying the walk.

“This morning was my first on walking duty,” Turner wrote. “Spent the entire walk explaining to our 9yo all the different ways cars had been prioritized. Because I want her to have plenty of ammo for future therapy.”

Two blocks from Turner’s house on a walkable street with a sidewalk they come face to face with the car-centric, ped-hostile design he was talking about: this “outsized intersection” with “gas station sliplanes, ped markings beyond faded.”

brightenedIt’s the “first unequivocal sign to pedestrians: beyond be serpents. Cease and desist,” he writes.

But Turner and his daughter didn’t cease and desist. They pressed on. And found hostile ground like this…Bws1pDsIcAAs4r7

… with narrow sidewalks that give “barely enough space for 9yo & dad to walk side by side, bellow over traffic noise.”

Walk signals don’t permit enough time for a kid to cross the street at a comfortable pace. The pavement is cracked and unwelcoming. Sliplanes, or rounded right turn lanes that allow drivers to avoid coming to a complete stop, abound. Drivers don’t yield. Expensive German cars, one after another, block their progress.

Bws2NcMIAAAcl9-

A few more street crossings (with absolutely no pedestrian markings) and now the school is in sight! And what a sight it is:

see school

Here’s a brilliant design, in which the curb cut dumps pedestrians (particularly those in wheelchairs) into traffic instead of a crosswalk.

bus stop

Of course, Turner’s daughter could take a city bus instead of navigating the land mines on this walk. And she would wait at this bus stop. “See how the crumbled pavement says WELCOME, STUDENTS!” Turner writes.

welcome

With that, Turner’s point is made. Even parents with the purest of intentions can get railroaded by car-centric infrastructure into driving their kids to school every day. That’s why, in the United States, only 35 percent of kids living within one mile of school walk or bike there.

That number was 89 percent in 1969.

  • John

    This is Mr. Turner’s walk. http://goo.gl/maps/TZNSB

    It’s not the minefield he makes it out to be. Had they simply crossed the street before walking north, they’d have traveled along a very wide and comfortable sidewalk much of the way. What more he expects from a walk along a major commuter route into downtown, I genuinely have no idea.

  • timsmith

    The route you’re suggesting is considerably less direct, which matters when you’re on foot. The issues he pointed out also could generally be fixed, regardless of whether it’s a “major commuter route into downtown”. I guess he shouldn’t expect much more though, given that guys like you have been planning our streets for the past 60-70 years.

  • jarendt

    The other side of the street has its own narrow section with a fence directly next to the sidewalk near the intersection with 16 Ave. NW. Google’s street view of that stretch of sidewalk is much worse than anything in these pictures. The east side of the street also lacks the brief break from the traffic that the Ripley Park path provides. Also, even if they decided to cross 10 St. NW as early as possible, the first crossing with a light is north of the gas station.

  • John

    Yes, he and his child will have to walk 20 feet next to a fence. And why? Because he is about to cross the Trans-Canada Highway. It is he who has chosen to have his family live on one side of the highway that runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, and go to school on the other.

    I genuine am not deliberately being obtuse. Perhaps I am not so bright as I like to think I am. Regardless, I fail to see the point of his rant when his family has made the choice that it has about wanting to live in one of Calgary hippest communities with their child’s school on the other side of the Trans-Canada Highway, the only road connecting them being one of the key entries into downtown during morning rush hour.

  • John

    “Guys like you” precludes me from engaging in further conversation with you. It’s a shame you have to go ad hominem in your very first reply.

  • jarendt

    Why is that fence there? It looks like it protects someone’s back yard. Perhaps the residents there got tired of right turns missing the corner and driving across their yard. Walking that twenty feet isn’t bad just because it’s narrow or noisy. It’s bad because it’s dangerous. There’s no escape if a car jumps the curb.

    There is a problem if the only one way to cross the highway or get to downtown is a busy, dangerous street designed for cars above all others. That problem is a lack of alternative routes for anyone else.

  • John

    The fence is there as a noise barrier due to residential being immediately behind it. It is a major traffic intersection.

    It’s not that there are no other routes. There are lights and crossings within a few blocks in either direction Immediately next to this intersection is Calgary’s biggest technical school. There are other routes. Perhaps they are not to the distinct liking of Mr. Turner, but they exist.

    I disagree that the problem is a lack of alternative routes. This is an older area with lovely side streets and wonderful trees over much of it. Again, the problem, if one exists at all, is that the Turner family has chosen to live on one side of Canada’s national highway while their child’s school is on the other.

    No environment is going to be perfect. It’s a matter of balancing interests. In this case, it seems as though Mr. Turner would have his interest trump those many, many individuals who did NOT choose to have a highway bisect their home/school environment. It is unrealistic to expect that he should get his way.

  • jarendt

    I can’t find an alternate route for pedestrians. 14 St. NW looks no safer than 10 St. NW and is pretty far away. There’s a crossing at 8 St. NW that doesn’t look too bad and even has a wall break for pedestrians, but how does one get to it from south of McHugh Bluff Park?

  • John

    14 Street is definitely too far afield to be practical. If one didn’t want to cross at 10th Street and 16th Ave, cutting through the SAIT campus (on the SW corner of that intersection) would be feasible, then crossing at 12th Street. 8th Street was the crossing I was more thinking of.

    Getting up there from south of McHugh can be achieved by taking one of the biking/hiking trails that cross it. Keep in mind, we’re really talking about a bluff here, so it’s a rather steep rise over a short distance. The trails cross at an angle because of the rise. For an idea of what it looks like below, you can see here: http://goo.gl/aNG663

    I remain of the mind that the practicality of what Mr. Turner wants is limited. If he were to live and equal distance east or west of the school, instead of in his chosen hip inner-city neighbourhood, he wouldn’t have quite so much about which to complain. I wouldn’t want that walk either (I despise long hills), but it is his recent choices that have given him the hassle much moreso than the 100-year-old city design.

  • Guest

    Maybe it’s just me being from south of the border, but cutting across a school or college if you can’t pass for a student or staff member seems like it is asking for hassles from the police or campus security, or in this case, child protective services too.

    As you say, hills make cutting across the park difficult. The paths appear to be unpaved, so they likely would be impassable after rains or in snow. I have a hard time considering that an alternate route.

    That doesn’t leave a decent way to walk there for anyone unaffiliated with the college — at least if it were in the U.S.. It isn’t just him and his daughter that might want to walk across the “transcontinental divide” to the other side of the city. It’s anyone who faces that problem or equally bad barriers. And it Isn’t just his neighborhood. People north of the river only get a sidewalk on one side of the street.

  • jarendt

    Fixing the problem for his particular neighborhood isn’t necessarily what he’s asking for. The issue is fixing the street design and maintenance pattern on many streets in many cities of prioritizing cars over every other means of transportation.

    Cut through a college and hope campus police don’t question you for trespassing or climb an unpaved bluff (assuming it isn’t too muddy or snowy to climb) aren’t considered acceptable urban transportation routes for cars. Why should they be acceptable for pedestrians?

  • John

    I admit, you have successfully swayed me from my original point of: cross the street at the bottom of the hill to the wider sidewalk, and then stay on that sidewalk all the way to school. Nobody has managed to articulate exactly what the problem is here. It’s a roadway with a sidewalk beside it. Further, you haven’t even once acknowledged that his family chose to bisect their work/school life with Canada’s coast-to-coast highway.

    All I can get out of any of this is, “we don’t like how your city was built a hundred years ago, and it should change”. To what, nobody wants to say. What trillions that would cost, nobody would care to pay for.

    What’s the point?

  • John

    I’ve never even heard of any such problem. Post-secondary schools are pretty much public spaces here.

  • Bob

    I appreciate John’s perspective on Chris Turner’s walk. Turner is correct about the issues that he found along the way. There is, however, a school in Sunnyside that would be a very easy walk from where John’s map says the Turners’ walk begins. There is one busy road to cross but it has a cross-walk with flashing lights. The school they walk to is a french-immersion school so they would have chosen this school over the local community school – I live in Bridgeland (another urban Calgary hood) and debated sending my daughter to this school but instead opted for the local neighbourhood school to avoid the bus ride. My daughter’s walk to school is 1 kilometer and it is quite pleasant.

  • Bob

    I forgot about the Hillhurst School…it’s only 3-4 blocks away. They’d get to walk through Riley park to get there.

  • mike

    The sad part is, all of 16th in that region was completely re-constructed at great cost in the last few years, AND held up as an example of a “complete street”. So these aren’t some 100-year-old relics.
    Further, the crumbling-sidewalk picture (last) is *also* an official bike-path, I believe.

    Overall, this area is TERRIBLE for pedestrians and not much better for anyone else.

  • vasiliki

    I’m confused. In the US you can’t actually pick your school. You are assigned to a public school (based on where you live and how the boundaries are drawn) nd sometimes, depending on pop. and demographics, that means you are in a school that is physically further from your home but your ‘in bounds’ school.

    Is that not the case in Canada?

    Also, I think you are deluded if you think this area was constructed with such wide streets to accomodate cars hundred years ago. This type of car centric road building is relatively recent (within the last 50 – 60 years). Historically, towns were built for pedestrians.

  • Erica_JS

    The point is that ALL kids in the city should be able to walk to a school 18 blocks from their house in a safe manner. If the mentality of planners took this as a baseline principle, it would not matter where any family chooses to live, as long as that choice is within city limits, because walkability would be the norm.

  • Rima Gerhard

    That walk looks pretty nice compared to what I see here in Miami. At least there *is* a sidewalk. Large portions of this City, and especially the pricey neighbourhoods (Coral Gables) don’t even have sidewalks at all! Miami Beach has sidewalks but they are riddled with lamp posts, parking meters, so walking or biking becomes more of a slalom experience. Add to that a lack of shade and walking in the blistering sun and 100 degree heat. No wonder everyone here drives everywhere.

  • Mike B

    Good call. When you can’t dispute logical points, just hide behind the anonymity of the internet and also engage in a personal attack.

  • dawdler

    Even parents with the purest of
    intentions can get railroaded by car-centric infrastructure into driving
    their kids to school every day. That’s why, in the United States, only 35 percent of kids living within one mile of school walk or bike there.That number was 89 percent in 1969.

    It’s a leap to assume that the decline is only because of ped-hostile urban design. I think it also has to do with our culture of fear.

  • mike

    Parents don’t always get to choose the school, remember. However, I’d be a little surprised if the closest one wasn’t the default. I believe that school that is their destination is a French-immersion, so perhaps that is why.

  • Ray

    I really don’t see what the problem is. There are other schools in the area that are much closer. It would have been a personal choice to send their kid to that school. Can imagine them doing this walk in the winter either. The route itself touch isn’t bad and probably the best that you can ask for in an inner city neighborhood. Otherwise move to the suburbs.

    I don’t understand the picture of the bus stop either. That wouldn’t be the stop the his daughter would use. One block south of the first picture at the gas station is a bus stop that would take her directly to the school. 10 minute ride according to Google.

    Also to get to the bus stop she will have to cross the street at the pedestrian crossing at 3rd Ave and 10th street. If you ever drive down this road you with always have have to stop here as there is almost always using this crossing

    http://goo.gl/ExFD8a

  • jarendt

    Down where I live, post-secondary schools are public spaces for anyone who can blend in. People who look like they don’t belong there get stopped by campus police. A nine-year-old girl by herself would be someone who doesn’t look like she belongs there,

  • Miles Bader

    Huh? The point is that the area has god-awful, pedestrian hostile, urban “design,” probably caused by many decades of car-centric groupthink and subsidization of motor vehicles at the expense of everything else.

  • Miles Bader

    They’re not going to stop a nine-year old girl.

    Typical American colleges are defacto public spaces, even if they’re nominally private. The campus police will obviously investigate anybody perceived to be threatening or causing a disturbance, but this girl presumably would not fall into either of those categories…

  • jarendt

    She would fall into the category of someone attracting attention by looking different, so police would start asking why she was there, even if they only perceived her as threatened rather than a threat.
    Worst case scenario… http://fox6now.com/2014/07/29/mother-arrested-after-allowing-7-year-old-son-to-go-to-park-alone/

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