(Update: As described the March 2018 article titled LMST Open Space and School Construction, a favorable decision was made in late 2017 regarding providing a pedestrian-oriented site design and construction moved ahead in the Spring of 2018.)
Some hold the view that introducing a drop-off loop at Le Marchant St. Thomas Elementary School will make it more convenient for parents to get their children to school. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Traffic congestion is a daily reality for parents dropping their children off at school. A drop-off loop - so the narrative goes - will serve a dual purpose in that it will provide a safe place for drop-off and make traffic flow more efficient.
This logic does not hold when examined more closely. The truth is, there is no infrastructure solution to the problem of traffic congestion at the school. None. Nothing. Nada. Introducing a drop-off loop will be perceived as a convenience which, in turn, will encourage more people to drive children to the school rather than have them walk.
Adding a drop-off loop is an "infrastructure improvement" analogous to road widening (i.e., ostensibly about efficiency/capacity). For years traffic engineers stated that road widening relieved congestion. It's now well documented that road widening does not reduce congestion, in fact it induces demand for more traffic and greater levels of congestion.
Much has been written about induced demand. Examples include:
- California's DOT Admits That More Roads Mean More Traffic
- Why We Cant Build Our Way Out of Congestion
- New Roads Mean New Traffic
- What’s Up With That: Building Bigger Roads Actually Makes Traffic Worse
There is no doubt that a drop-off loop will be appealing to drivers. This appeal in turn, will encourage more people to drive because they know the infrastructure is there waiting for them. This induced demand will, in turn, create greater amounts of congestion and greater potential for accidents involving drivers and children arriving by foot and crossing in the path of vehicles driven by parents entering and exiting the loop.
Encouraging more children to be driven to school comes with another cost, namely the health of children. None other than Environment Canada points out the damage more vehicles at school do to little lungs:
- Children breathe 50 percent more air per kilogram of body weight than adults.
- Ten seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it.
- A single vehicle dropping off and picking up kids at one school puts 1100 Litres of pollution into the air per month.
- Children’s asthma symptoms increase as a result of car exhaust and asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15.
- Asthma is the most common chronic illness in children and the cause of most school absences.
- Exposure to vehicle exhaust increases the risk of death from heart and lung disease and lung cancer.
Many schools are experiencing exactly what is happening at LMST. Here are a few examples:
- Traffic Congestion a Growing Danger Around Schools
- Alarm Sounds Over Traffic Congestion at Midland Elementary School
- Traffic Congestion in Front of School a Concern
- Edmonton Schools Slammed With Traffic Congestion
- The Problem of Traffic Congestion Around Schools
The problem is widespread, as evidenced by Columbia University preparing a School-Related Traffic Congestion Easement Plan for the City of Lisbon in Portugal. Here in Halifax, the Ecology Action Center assists school and community groups in developing active transportation plans to help more children and youth walk and wheel more often and safely in their communities.
The solution to traffic congestion at the Le Marchant-St. Thomas is one which relates to behavior, not infrastructure. As Toronto's Chief Planner - Jennifer Kleesmaat - points out, in 1969 just 12% of children were being driven to school. In 2009 just 12% of kids were walking to school. There was a time not long ago when a 2 km was a common distance to walk to school in all sorts of weather. Have a look at Jennifer's TED Talk and consider the possibilities.