Sunday, September 23, 2012

Externalizing Transportation Costs: Yes, We Pay

Today, the Ann Arbor Chronicle has a piece by David Erik Nelson, In It For The Money: School Transportation. In it, he points out that  
If you’re wondering why there is such a crazy drag on Michigan’s economy, maybe part of the problem is that we make 40 able-bodied adults do, at no pay, the work that we once paid one dude a basically fair salary to do with a big yellow bus. Those are hours spent not making anything anyone can buy, not earning any money to buy anything from anyone else, not creating jobs for another person, not rendering or using services, not being useful to the community.
Nelson describes how, in place of each cancelled bus route, we now have many, many adults driving their kids to school, and what a drag that is. . . on the environment, on the economy, on people's time.

He has some other examples and I think the entire article is worth reading, but the basic point is that the costs don't go away. They just get transferred from the school district (the public good) to individuals. In some cases, the costs go up--how much do you think all of those parents are paying in gas? But they don't go up for the district, they go up for the individuals.

Nelson then goes on to detail the ways in which the most vulnerable get the least attention in this shuffle, because the parents with email, the parents who speak good English--they are the ones whose complaints get noticed. The ones who don't have email, who don't speak good English? Forget about it.

One of the side effects of cutting transportation--and one that definitely contributes to the number of parents driving their kids to school--has been the expansion of the "walk zone." How far away from school do you have to be to get a bus ride? Now, it's 1-1/2 miles.

Now I have no problem with an expanded walk zone, if it's safe for kids to walk, year round. Even in snowy weather. Even in the early mornings in late fall when it is dark. That would require sidewalks.

Do we meet that test? Funny you should ask. No, we don't. I'm just waiting for the serious accident to happen. How much are our savings worth?

I was glad to see, in today, an article about Clague receiving a $180,000 Safe Routes to School grant. According to the article,

The grant is one of six awards MDOT allocated to Michigan schools this month — about $990,000 in all — to help students safely walk and bike to school.
The grant will fund the installation of sidewalks and crosswalks on Nixon Road, flashing beacons on Green Road and crosswalk improvements at the intersection of Green and Nixon. Clague Middle School Principal Cindy Leaman said students currently walk on a bike path space on the side of the road to get to and from school because a sidewalk on Nixon Road is incomplete.

The picture above, excerpted from the article, shows kids walking to Clague from Huron High School on a roadside bike path. They are not walking against traffic, and I don't know if the bicycle path even exists on the other side of the road. Now imagine those kids walking to school, in the morning, in the dark. Does that seem safe to you? Not to me.

And the grant is truly fantastic. Except for one thing. There are nearly thirty schools in the Ann Arbor school district, and I don't know if there is a single one where every student within the walk zone has a safe route to school. I know for sure that my local schools, Wines Elementary and Forsythe Middle School, do not. Are we going to get these grants for every school in the district? That would be impossible. There were only six grants given out in Michigan this year. [Thurston Elementary School did get one a few years ago.]

As noted in the article, 
Students walk on the shoulder of Newport Road and over M-14 to get to [Wines] school because there is no sidewalk on the road, [City Council member Sabra] Briere said. “There is no safe route,” Briere said. “These students are forced on to Newport Road or they don’t walk — their parents have to drive them. The burden has shifted from the government to the individual.


  1. Also worth noting -- kids from the whole Water Hill region need to walk or bike north on that same Newport stretch to get to the back of Skyline. That's LOTS of kids. And soooooo dangerous.

  2. When my daughter was at Skyline, she took the school bus through the Water Hill neighborhood--has that been discontinued this year? However, you are right, if she missed it she would have needed to go via Newport, a road without a shoulder, and something we wouldn't let her do. Therefore we sometimes ended up driving her.

  3. The bus does come here, though we are not that far really (coming in through the back way). And I have exactly zero confidence that we will continue to have busing for the forseeable future. It would be such a short and easy fix to get a sidewalk built from the wines/forsythe buildings to the first little street on the left that goes into the neighborhood behind skyline.