By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Department of Transportation (DOT) wants kids to walk to school. To that end, they’ve kicked off their second annual “We’re Walking Here” competition, which invites students to promote walking as a safe, healthy and practical way to get around.
Many parents, however, don’t allow their children to walk to school alone because of safety concerns. According to the National Highway Traffic Safe Administration (NHTSA) children vary in their readiness to handle traffic situations, such as choosing a safe time to cross a street. In general, experts say, children are not ready to cross a street alone until age 10.
Some Brooklyn parents feel their kids will be ready at a much younger age. “I walked to school from the age of 6 myself,” said Ben Engber, a Park Slope dad of 5-year-old twin girls. Engber grew up in Manhattan. “I expect they’ll walk to school when they’re 6. We’re training them to cross the street safely.” Engber said the girls’ school is a three-block walk, which includes crossing 8th Avenue.
Engber’s wife Lise -- who took a yellow bus to school when she was growing up in Portland, Oregon -- agrees. “I’m thinking next year,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We’ll re-evaluate come fall.”
Ms. Engber says she’s not worried about letting the twins walk to school on their own because the streets between their home and the school “are such a sea of parents and children. There are so many helpful adults” and a crossing guard at 8th Avenue.
Other Park Slope parents may not agree with her, she acknowledged. “Sometimes they run ahead. A mom yesterday was shocked that my daughter was by herself.”
DOT’s competition kicked off on October 3, International Walk to School Day, part of a global campaign for creating safer streets for students. (Interested schools should register online at www.nyc.gov/dot)
As part of the day’s events, FedEx and the New York City Safe Kids coalition offered special safety-themed activities at three locations. These included sitting in different size trucks and freight vehicles to understand a driver’s perspective, and various techniques to be seen by drivers.
DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said in a statement, “As we design safer streets for everyone, students can bring these healthy lessons for life home to their families.”
The city says that last year was the safest year on record since New York City began collecting data on traffic fatalities in 1910.
But Michael Murphy, Communications Director for Transportation Alternatives, points out that traffic fatalities have actually risen this year.
“According to the Mayor’s Management Report last month, 176 bicyclists and pedestrians died and 115 drivers and passengers were killed in the 12 months preceding July 1, 2012,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “That’s up from 158 bicyclists and pedestrians and 78 drivers and passengers the year before.”
Murphy says it’s a police enforcement issue. The number one killer on the streets is speeding – “But since January 1 police issued fewer tickets for speeding than they did for tinted car windows. If police don’t enforce traffic laws, we’ll see a rise in fatalities,” he said. “Thankfully the DOT has done enormous amounts to make streets safer – it’s time for NYPD to do so as well.”
For more information about “We’re Walking Here” and DOT’s other safety initiatives, visit www.nyc.gov/dot.