MOORE: Drive carefully – a shortage of school bus drivers means more children are walking – The Cavalier Daily
A few months ago, in my hometown of Oakton, a speeding car crushed in a group of high school students returning home. two girls were kill and another was seriously injured. In the consequences of this tragedy, our community came together to make a donation to the grieving family and plan an action plan to move forward. The sad truth, however, is that the accident could probably have been foreseen – we shouldn’t have to limit ourselves to reactionary measures. The road where the crash occurred was in the top five percent for pedestrian safety risk in the state, and since 2017 it has been the site of 114 crashes. Charlottesville has similar scary numbers – as of 2018 the city had the The highest pedestrian injury rates throughout Virginia. With the current shortage school bus drivers and the thousands of Charlottesville children who walk to school every day, I fear that Charlottesville is becoming more dangerous for pedestrians. While the city should implement infrastructure solutions, Charlottesville drivers should also step in and do all they can to keep pedestrians safe.
Charlottesville needs 40 school bus drivers – it has six. This means that almost 80% of school-aged children arrive at school by car, on foot, by bicycle or by another means of transport other than the bus. While Charlottesville was aware of the driver shortage early in the summer and had the option of prioritizing the hiring of more bus drivers, their solution was instead to increase the beaches – called “family responsibility zones” – in which they expected children to be “responsible for their own safety” and walk, cycle or “are escorted” to school themselves. This leaves an obvious gap – students without family members available to walk or drive them safely to school are left without adequate safety protections. Already, parents have expressed concerns about their children’s safety when walking to school. There are families who live between two and eight kilometers from the school, who do not know if they can leave their work to pick up their children from school and who are not provided with a school bus.
Charlottesville has a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which seems to be the group that would take action to increase the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. This group describes itself as a voluntary advisory group “dedicated to improving the design and safety of cycling and pedestrian facilities for all road users”. While important, I fear that time constraints and the fact that members are not always able to prioritize an unpaid position means that we cannot rely on this voluntary organization alone. The chair of the committee has previously expressed concern about the recent school bus shortage, indicating that with the expansion of walking distance to schools, there are “far more problems than we can even catalog”.
It should be noted that Charlottesville is not alone in facing this problem. The United States as a whole lack to increase its pedestrian safety compared to the rates achieved by several European countries, and the fatality rate for cyclists has been on the rise in recent years compared to European countries. Additionally there was a peak in vehicle crashes after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to disproportionately harm low-income families and black Americans — likely due to already existing inequalities.
The reality that Charlottesville’s pedestrian safety problem spans the entire country provides significant impetus to rethink the way we imagine our society. It is not just Charlottesville, but the United States as a whole that needs reform. Japan, for example, has a community support network that ensures high rates of sure public transport and walking, even for children. A Charlottesville resident has already interrogates why we don’t model our system after a Dutch city that integrates pedestrian safety into its physical environment, and Livable Cville called for more immediate also security measures.
In the near future, Charlottesville and the United States should heed these complaints and begin making infrastructure changes. Yet all of us who drive in Charlottesville can also begin to make immediate changes. Jogging around Charlottesville, I’m greeted by a plethora of signs that say “Drive slowly, Charlottesville Kids Walk to School”. I would like to reiterate it here. Especially to my fellow college students, respect your environment and respect the people of Charlottesville. Don’t overspeed, use your indicators, don’t drink and drive – let’s keep Charlottesville as safe as possible.
Jessica Moore is the editor of the Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. The columns represent the opinions of the authors only.