Guest Blogger: Meg Peterson, BYU Public Health Student
Every morning I drive past Orchard Elementary in Orem on my way to work. As I enter the school zone I slow down to 20 miles per hour. Sometimes I feel like I’m driving in slow motion and I am able to more fully absorb what is happening around me. I see the children heading to school down the paved sidewalk to the crosswalk. They stop at the white painted lines in the road where a familiar face is waiting to stop traffic so they can safely cross the street. I see the children laugh and sing as they carelessly make their way to the school.
Living in a country with highly developed infrastructure and a growing emphasis on the safety and education of our children, we nearly always imagine sending our children to school in a safe walking environment like that of Orchard Elementary. But the truth is, Orchard Elementary is the exception.
When I was in elementary school I remember walking or riding my bike to school every day. I would walk to the end of my neighborhood where I crossed a bridge that fed to an extremely busy street. My elementary school was located on the other side. Usually it wasn’t a problem because there were other children crossing with me and a faithful crossing guard that would stop traffic regardless of the color of the stoplight, since the stoplight was never in the pedestrians favor.
However, I remember one morning walking to school and when I came to the bridge I found no crossing guard directing traffic. My heart sank as I made my way to the intersection. I searched and searched for the crossing guard or another child or a grown up to help me. But I found no one. I pushed the button on the light pole incessantly, knowing that it was supposed to change the light and allow pedestrians to cross. The light never changed. Even as a child I hated to be late and I knew it was almost time for school to start. I began to feel the lump in my throat grow, as I felt more and more hopeless. As a last resort I tried watching the cars, hoping someone would see me and stop, or maybe there would be a big enough gap, allowing me to run across the road. Each time I stepped my foot off the sidewalk and into the street, a car would whiz past, forcing me to return to where I started. I felt hopeless and I gave up. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I turned and walked home.
Although Orchard Elementary seems to be a utopian example of child pedestrian safety around schools, the reality is that most children attending schools in the North Provo and South Orem area have experiences more like mine on a daily basis. A study done by public health majors at Brigham Young University in 2015 found that 9 out of 10 schools in the area are on busy roads. Of these schools, 50% have poor sidewalks or no sidewalk at all, forcing children to walk on the road.
The truth is that most motor-vehicle pedestrian deaths among school-aged children occur when the child is crossing the street. It is time to realize that the power is in our hands to create safe routes to school for our children. Contact your local lawmaker and tell them you want all Utah children to have a safe route to school.