Welcome to our 12 Days of Mobility series, which celebrates the launch of our Transportation Cost-Savings Calculator, a tool that measures the return of investment from transportation demand management (TDM) programs. Click the image to see the entire series.
“You drive right?” was something I texted my friend last week to make sure we would be able to meet up at a café.
I didn’t even think about other ways to get there, like walking or biking – my question was just a simple reflection, the result of a habit because I had always driven to this place, so therefore my friend was going to drive there too.
You could attribute this to how driving is often the default mode in the United States, or to the people who are shocked when they hear that so-and-so doesn’t have a driver’s license. It can also be linked to neighborhoods where children are banned from playing and biking on streets in the name of safety. (It’s funny then that there are countless articles about how much fewer teens are getting licenses, along with the rest of the population.)
But truly and simply, my default driving question might be due to the minimal-education levels children receive about multimodal transportation.
In a study led by Mobility Lab’s research manager Lama Bou Mjahed, researchers found that childhood walking behavior affected adult walking habits. So kids who walked more for transportation tended to have stronger walking habits and positive attitudes towards walking as adults.
This means that educating kids on transportation options matters. If kids can learn and use other transportation options, they might use them as adults.
Arlington, Va., for example, has been a leader in implementing TDM strategies in public schools and shifting commutes that could be reasonably shifted to bussing, walking, or biking among staff and students of all ages.
Arlington Public Schools is one of the only school districts that employs an in-house TDM coordinator and operates the APS GO! platform, which helps each school set up and analyze its particular strategy to shift school commutes away from solo driving.
Parents also need to be multimodal role models for their children. Seeing how parents get around affects how kids perceive transportation options, which could shift if a kid sees mom and dad taking biking to work versus being stuck in the family van during rush hour.
There are some promising trends to look forward to:
- On the classroom front, the enrollment of high schoolers taking AP Human Geography (a course that has a unit devoted to cities and introduces “types of intracity transportation” as well as conceptualizing transit-oriented development and smart growth) has gone up dramatically over the past seven years, from under 80,000 test takers to about 220,000.
- To back up how such education gets results, the proportion of kids walking to school has started to slightly increase.
How amazing would it be, on so many levels, if America’s kids started returning to the streets?
Photo by Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab.