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Are We There Yet? Childcare And Transit

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Editor's Note:This excerpt from Are We There Yet? discusses the importance of quality childcare and preschools in transit-rich environments and the need for safe routes to school. Together these underscore that complete communities provide the elements that people need to thrive because they also provide the nexus where people can come together in a web of supportive relationships that enhance learning and promote an understanding and acceptance of diversity.

Early childhood education is also identified as a key factor in setting children up for success. Quality preschools and daycare facilities in high-access locations have proven to be a real benefit to harried parents dropping kids off on their way to work. A study by Local Investment in Child Care, a California nonprofit organization, finds that locating childcare facilities within a third of a mile of transit results in high ridership by families: 34 percent of people dropping their children off then walked or used transit to commute to their destination, with even higher numbers in low-income areas.

Childcare facilities not only provide an essential service to families but they can also serve as “anchor tenants” in a development that can provide other needed shops and services that serve families.

But many urban neighborhoods with high-quality transit service do not have high-quality schools and childcare facilities. In Denver, for example, less than 10 percent of the region’s 5,251 schools are located within a mile of existing or planned fixed-guideway transit, and there are very few highly rated preschools within a half-mile of transit. As a result of this spatial mismatch, some regions have begun mapping the locations of childcare and educational facilities relative to the locations of transit lines in order to help ensure that there are transit connections.

This report has focused on all the ways that we can make communities complete in order to address the challenges of a new century in an integrated, coordinated and collaborative way that also maximizes the use of existing resources, including opportunity areas. The concept of thriving, however, also involves factors that are less tangible than those we have discussed but that are nurtured within the physical context of complete communities.

Complete communities provide the elements that people need to thrive because they also provide the nexus where people can come together in a web of supportive relationships that enhance learning and promote an understanding and acceptance of diversity — of age, income, ethnicity, lifestyle, ability — and the richness it provides. It is this complete community nexus that can allow us to reach our potential as human beings, individually and collectively. The Top 10 lists on the following pages highlight some regions that are doing well according to our Thriving metrics, which means they are getting closer to building complete communities. The full list of metrics for 366 regions can be found on our website: reconnectingamerica.org/arewethereyet.

On the way thereSafe Routes To School

Nearly half of all children walked or biked to school in 1969, but only 13 percent walk or bike today. Two recent national surveys of parents found the most commonly cited reason was that schools are too far away, followed by concerns about traffic safety and crime. But the fact that children no longer walk or bike has serious health repercussions: Obesity among children has tripled over the last two decades, and more than 20 percent of morning traffic is generated by parents driving kids to school. The combined emissions from all those cars and school buses adds up to the single greatest cause of pollution in many cities.

When Congress funded the Safe Routes to School program in 2005, it was responding to a grassroots movement that had rallied to make streets safer for kids by adding sidewalks, bike paths and crosswalks, and by providing education and encouragement. The popularity of the program is fueled by alarm over childhood obesity and lack of physical activity as well as parents’ nostalgia for their own walks to school and a desire to connect with other parents, spikes in the price of gas, and concern about climate change. The program produces very real results.

At the Bear Creek Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado, Principal Kent Cruger serves as inspiration, arriving at school via foot-powered scooter, skateboard or unicycle — to cite a few of his choices — when he isn’t carpooling. The number of students now regularly walking and biking has risen by 30 percent, with a corresponding 30 percent reduction in traffic counts. At the Green Street School in Brattleboro, Vermont, the number of “walking school buses” — groups of children are accompanied by adults on the walk to school, picking up students along the way — and “bicycle trains” have tripled. A public outreach effort to reduce speeds around this school, just outside downtown, has resulted in a 40 percent reduction in the number of cars speeding through the school zone.

Due to increased interest in walking and biking in Auburn Washington, the Auburn School District has been able to reduce the number of school buses from six to one, resulting in an annual savings of $220,000. At Pioneer Elementary in Auburn, 85 percent of students walk or bike on a regular basis and they receive the highest academic scores in the district, which Principal Debra Gary attributes to their healthy, active lifestyles. And Miami-Dade County has seen a 43 percent decrease in childhood pedestrian injuries and a 64 percent decrease in the number of children seen at local trauma centers because of pedestrian injuries.

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