Getting Kids Off Their Butts

When was the last time you saw a Westport youngster walking or riding a bike to school?

I had to search the web for a stock photo of kids walking to school, because no such photo exists in Westport.

There’s a reason the answer is “back in the Ford administration.”  For reasons both societal (parents enjoy driving their kids) and calculated (the town has decided to not create bike lanes; not build or improve sidewalks, and not install bike racks), Westport’s roads and parking lots are clogged each  school day with the vehicular version of atherosclerosis.

I won’t say the result is an epidemic of fat kids.

I’ll let Michelle Obama say it for me.

Yesterday the First Lady announced a sweeping initiative to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation.  Part of the effort includes installing sidewalks in neighborhoods to encourage students to walk to school.

She said that a series of small changes — as simple as repainting crosswalks with reflective paint so more children could safely walk — slows the rate of childhood obesity.

A couple of years ago, Bedford’s security guard counted 300 parents dropping kids off — in a single day.  That’s in addition to the many school buses that crawl through town — often moving slower than a child can walk or bike.

Westport is in the forefront of so many things.  We ban plastic bags, build edible gardens and sponsor Ecofests.

Let’s get off our butts on this one.

So our kids can get off their theirs.

24 responses to “Getting Kids Off Their Butts

  1. A couple of years ago, after a child on a bike collided with a truck, the principal of his (also my son’s) elementary school sent out a message saying that children should not ride their bikes to school any more. I’m not sure what the status of that is now. I do see a few kids walking, though.

    The schools here draw from a wide area geographically, and almost all of them are in heavily trafficked areas. It’s not such an easy call about the biking and walking. Even the school parking lots don’t always feel that safe, as some folks dropping off kids seem to be in a big rush.

    • An excellent point about safety (including parking lots). But shouldn’t we be working on changing that (especially parking lots!), rather than using it as a reason/excuse not to walk/ride?

  2. Emily Hamilton Laux

    For the record, in 2002 -2005, my children (and I) were told they were not allowed to bike to Bedford Middle School–even though at the time, biking for them involved crossing one small cul-de-sac.

  3. First, and foremost, we need to fix Westport drivers. I am shocked by the aggressive, horrendous, and distracted behavior of drivers in town and wouldn’t let my kids walk or ride to school even if we lived close enough. Also, when was the last time you saw someone actually driving 25 mph in a school zone? 40mph is more like it. Sidewalks would be a plus. I’ve lived many places in this country – but none of them have lacked sidewalks as Westport does.

    How about banning processed food? We’d all be a lot healthier if we ate food that was actually created on a farm and not in a laboratory.

  4. Dan lighten up
    Put your hat and rubbers on and go over to the old sanitarium on Compo and see a plethora of happy healthy kids sledding yelling and havin a kick ass time !

  5. Sidewalks??? Where??? On Main street , Post Road East until Compo Shopping Center and Compo South. Please add to the list, because I can’t. Oh, I forgot a short stretch on Hillspoint Road and other tid bits of local streets.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong!

  6. On my street, parents routinely drive their children to the bus stop and wait in idling cars until the bus arrives. Some of these children live only three doors away from the bus stop. Our road is a small cul-de-sac, so it’s not like we have much traffic. Why aren’t these kids walking?

    I used to wonder about the scooters that were on the side of the road during the school day. Then I discovered that some children would ride to the bus stop on the scooters, and ditch them in the woods for the day until they could ride it home. Now, that was using the old ‘noggin.

  7. Addison Fletcher

    We all are assuming that exercise is the answer. As a marathon runner I applaud these efforts to “get kids off their butts” but is it really the answer? Bike paths (significant now), bike racks and the plethora of structured activities will not work. What are these kids eating??? Curious that you mention the Ford Administration because in the early 1980’s, when we had an overabundance of grain in this country, the food industry had to find a way for us Americans to consume more of their products. So they added preservatives which allowed for our addiction to sugar substitutes and levels of obestity went way up. Gotta change those eating habits!!!

  8. Dan, I don’t understand your reference to “back in the Ford Administration.” Were there specific proposals in the mid ’70s to add bike lanes and sidewalks that the Town turned down? If so, I’m guessing that the general feeling then was that Westport was a “rural town” and adding those features would destroy the town’s character. The traffic then couldn’t have been as intense as it is now. Even today, there are people opposed — I remember reading a letter to the editor from a resident on Evergreen Ave complaining about the extension of the sidewalk on that road.

  9. As I recall, it is illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk, and not very smart either, as there are many more obstacles on a sidewalk. Bike paths would be great, but it would be difficult to widen many parts of North Avenue.

    It’s not just the excercise, it’s the time spent outdoors, away from the computer and TV, free to explore the town, that make bike riding great fun.

    Referencing a post above, if a child rides her bike to/from school and is injured, is the school/town liable? If not, then why do the middle schools prohibit bikes?

  10. A huge problem that is, sadly, not particularly fixable, is the abundance of cul-de-sacs and dead ends. These funnel all traffic (car and pedestrian) onto the relatively few though-streets, increasing traffic and making it much more dangerous for pedestrians. For example, look at the area bound by Post, Hillspoint, Compo, and Greens Farms (all relatively major arteries). There is no way to go directly through this area without driving on these arteries. In the town in suburban NJ where I grew up, we had no cul-de-sacs. The cars stayed on the main arteries through town, and we all walked or biked to school on the parallel, quieter “back” streets which could get you anywhere you needed to go. In Westport it’s nearly impossible to get anywhere without using the main arteries (Compo, Post, etc). In part this is a function of larger lots, decreasin the number of streets, but it’s also bad planning. This is why states (Virginia for example) have begun to ban cul-de-sacs in new subdivisions.

  11. I am not sure why the constant conversation concerning kids biking to school. It is not safe
    for an adult to bike in this town let alone a child!
    I was nearly hit running yesterday on Cross Highway by a town parking enforcement officer.
    But that does not mean kids can not walk. I follow buses that stop every 50 yards taking kids home well within a mile of Staples or Bedford Middle School each day. As well, we see 200+ cars picking up their children every day. If you pick your child up from school, you should be required to have a permit that at least brings revenue into the town instead of merely polluting it and maintaining your child’s immovable posterior. You want to get your kids off their butts, hit up their parents’ wallets!

  12. We parents of Westport school children DO contribute to the town’s coffers, whether the kids take the bus, walk, or we drive them to school.

    It’s easy to pontificate about posteriors from one’s seat in front of the computer, eh? 🙂

    • Hi Susan:

      I’m not sure that most post said anything about parents not contributing to “the town’s coffers.” It was about kids and exercise.

      And sure, I pontificate about posteriors from my seat in front of my computer. Right after I get back from the Y.

      See you at the gym! — Dan

  13. Hi Mr. Woog,
    I saw this article and just had to comment. I did take the bus/drive to staples every day of my high school career but its because I live across town near downtown. When I was in elementary school, however, I walked to school every day with Reed, Ben, and Abby Fagan. Our moms came with us, until we were old enough. It was their form of “gossip time”. Sure we hated it when it rained or snowed, but it was definitely one of the highlights of that time of my life.

    • Hi Sam:

      I LOVE your comment. Walking to Burr Farms and Long Lots was one of the best times of my life then too. My friends and I had great conversations, trying to figure out friends, the world and “life.” Some of what I learned about the birds and the bees then was even correct.

      I walked to Staples, too — from High Point Road, across the sometimes very snowy fields. Not always great fun, but certainly good exercise.

      THANKS for sharing your thoughts! — Dan

  14. Hi, Dan, my second comment in this thread was in response to the person who wrote, “If you pick your child up from school, you should be required to have a permit that at least brings revenue into the town instead of merely polluting it and maintaining your child’s immovable posterior.”

    That person made a direct, if facetious, suggestion about contributing to the town’s revenue. My point was that Westport parents do, and then some. Far from “polluting” the town, many of us contribute in all kinds of ways.

    Race you to the beach…

  15. The facts seem fairly clear:

    (1) You got fat kids;
    (2) On a rainy day, you have 250 cars picking up kids from Bedford Middle School;
    (3) A priority in Westport is the environment if you judge it from the banning of plastic bags in grocery stores;
    (4) 250 cars add a lot of gases to the environment;
    (5) The school system is strapped for more money.

    Therefore, it would seem simple: you pick up your kid, you pay extra. Duh!

    If you want to make it personal, I make my living on the computer but have managed to run 15 marathons/21 triathlons
    with my posterior in full stride.
    Thank you very much.
    And I biked to Coleytown Elementary in 1955.

  16. Have the regulations changed on how far you live from a school before you qualify for bus transportation? I lived a little less than a mile from Coleytown El and Jr High–I moved here in 4th grade in 1963 and I was not eligible for bus transportation. So, many days I did walk to and from both schools–and, yes, there was a sidewalk on Easton Road back then. (Of course, I did appreciate it when my mom or dad drove me to school after we got our 1965 fire-engine red Buick Rivera–since so many of the kids in 5th grade loved that car!)

  17. An benefit on walking or biking to school that is not to be overlooked is a sense of independence. My mom let me bike to King’s Highway when I was in first grade. You learn by doing, and I attribute my independence to biking to school and locking it up everyday from first grade through fourth grade. Thanks, Mom!

    It was cool to see Sam post above, because she lives across the street from me. I guess Wright Street parents get it right.

  18. The Dude Abides

    Nice analysis regarding independence. There seems to be a fear factor among parents here. I am not sure whether they think their kids are going to get kidnapped or what but when you meet your elementary school child at the mail box and walk them up the driveway, there certainly is little independence. But these kids’ lives are so structured now from piano lessons to YMCA events that they have little time to think or play on their own. The days of pickup baseball games and just riding your bikes to ride are gone. It is sad and I pity the Stepford kids.