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Part 1: Mark Baumer Reflection: Impounding Vehicles & Immigrant Rights

This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

How Many High School Students Drive to School in RI?

I think there was actually less parking, and more buildings, when I went to UDHS. This is an old image. But as you can see, still pretty suburban. Hardly "urbanist" in its design. Yet I knew no one who drove to school.
I noticed today at a certain high school I subbed at in the East Bay that many students drove out of the parking lot to leave. This was totally unheard of territory for me. Growing up in Upper Darby and Sharon Hill in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, I never knew any students who drove to school. It was forbidden. That is, there was no parking allowed in the parking lot, and there was no parking allowed on the street.

In fairness, the reason for this was probably not the great environmental credentials of my communities, but the fact that there was limited space. The on-street parking ban for students was probably a result of cranky neighbors, and might have been better fixed by just metering the spots (and giving the revenue to the adjacent residents).  

That said, driving to school as a high school student seems SO WEIRD. And it seems totally normal in the community where I was subbing today. 


Some of the (very historic, very small-footprint) elementary schools in the aforementioned location have these really nice rain gardens cut out of the asphalt playing areas. I saw a plan on a teacher's desk about the implementation of these gardens, which happened before I had any interaction with the district. It seems to have been about stormwater control. Yet the high school (and one of the middle schools) in the district each have huge parking lots. It occurs to me that these are probably a much larger contributor to the stormwater issues in the community than the hopscotch areas in the back of the elementary schools.

I wonder if the prioritization of the elementary schools was based on some kind of "percentage metric" versus an absolute value of impervious surfaces metric. Percentages seem to be a really common way to talk about the problem at a community level, which has problems. Would a school district take that mistake to the building-to-building level? It might also just have been random, or maybe it was done that way because particular teachers or administrators took initiative over other teachers or administrators. I'm kind of trying to make sense of this without asking a bunch of impertinent questions, so I'm almost archeologizing the situation, to see what I can find on my own.

Nice rain gardens, regardless.

One of the interventions that could be made in the East Bay would be to complete the bike path that connects from Kickemuit Middle School and Hugh Cole Elementary School into the center of town. These are two schools that were places (in my opinion) in fairly peripheral locations, causing a lot of students to be driven or bused to school, but if the bike path was connected across the river, that might change.

I've been somewhat reserved about talking about my commute patterns with staff or students, but people ask, of course. One thing younger students have said is that their parents don't let them bike. In a community that I presume has no real or perceived crime threats, I venture this might be a traffic concern. I've heard this even from older middle school students.

I couldn't find any online policies about parking for the high school I mentioned, which makes me think that there is no policy (or it might mean my research is lazy-- honestly, I only gave it a perfunctory look). If students are getting free parking at the high school, the school should consider charging a fee. This is a community that's mostly built to walkable or bikeable scale, and it has a great bike path running right through it, so I would hope that this is a place where not driving to school could become a normal thing in the future.

One thing I have noticed, just because I myself often bike at least one leg of my commute, is that there's no natural cut-through from the bike path to the high school, because of a lack of side streets on that part of the path. One has to get off on one side or the other, and use the road or the sidewalk. A quick fix could be to take a section of the main street and fit it with protected bike lanes to make the last connection.

Upper Darby and Sharon Hill weren't (and aren't) bikeable. In fact, they were less so than the town I currently work in. The towns I grew up in were denser and more to a bikeable scale than most suburbs, much like Rhode Island's East Bay, but they also completely lacked bike infrastructure of any kind. On occasion, a student would venture into the road in an unthought-out way, and be killed. But the towns I grew up in were walkable (mostly), and had nice trolley/light rail/subway connections to other places. So while there was side grumbling from a handful of people about not letting people park in these places, students mostly accepted the idea that it was normal for them not to be entitled to a place to park. 

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