The freedom of being car free

cherry_blossom_by_raylau-d4ve992When I began my parental leave with my infant son in mid – 2010, I decided that we would be a car free family. There were various reasons for this decision: financial, environmental, fitness but, call me paranoid if you will, after 13 years of working in the Road Safety field, the risk to our personal safety topped the list.
I’ve had far too many discussions with police officers about “why the driver lost control and crashed, and why those passengers, including many, many children, are dead”. The most common reason first world children 16 years and under are injured or killed is accidents, the most common type of “accident” is a car crash. I decided the best move I could make for my son’s health was to minimize his time in an automobile. Please note that although I work in the Road Safety field, all opinions expressed here are my personal ones.
Besides greatly reducing Lucan’s risk of being involved in a car crash, being car free provides numerous other benefits to our family. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to live in a society that enables me to obtain a drivers licence, and I appreciate the convenience of using an automobile (either a rental, friend’s or car share) when I do need to drive, but, to be frank, driving stresses me OUT! I find driving around the Lower Mainland generally frustrating and boring and when I do it, often think of all the other things I could be doing. Then there is the lack of physical exercise point. For much of 2007 and 2008 I was a Masters student residing in London, England. Living on very little money, I did not join a gym and used my feet and public transit to get around. I did not gain any weight during my time overseas. Once I returned to Vancouver and began driving frequently, I gained about 15 pounds in less than 6 months. Once I went on parental leave with Lucan I lost over 25 pounds. It turns out pushing a loaded baby stroller around the city is a better cardio workout then the gym. Lucan’s no longer in a stroller, but we still commute almost everywhere on foot or by transit, and you know what? We both enjoy the trips so much more than in a car because we can talk to each other, play games and observe the scenery.
When Lucan began Kindergarten last September we knew exactly how he’d get there – walk.
The literature on the benefits of children walking to school is prolific. I’ve attached a link here to the article I am citing.
“Walking is known to improve academic performance. Children arrive brighter and more alert for their first morning class. In a UK Department for Transport survey, nine out of ten teachers said their students are much more ready to learn if they’ve walked to school. Walking reduces stress and increases creativity, both of which will help a child’s performance at school.
Walking gives children good life experience. It’s an opportunity for them to be independent, think responsibly, and make decisions for themselves. Some children feel less anxiety about being at school when they know how to get home; it’s much harder to learn that route from the perspective of a car.
Walking gets children outdoors – and, according to Richard Louv, who wrote Last Child in the Woods, kids certainly aren’t spending enough time outside these days. Those few minutes of walking can provide inspiration.
Walking provides daily exercise for children. Obesity rates have skyrocketed in North America, so incorporating physical activity into a child’s daily routine is a good place to start fighting it. As physical fitness improves, so does academic performance, according to the California Department of Education.”
About 80% of the time I am able to join Lucan and his daycare group in the walk to school. Rain or shine, we have a lot of fun. The kids play and chase each other around, the parents chat with each other and often Lucan points out landmarks to me. He’s very observant and good with directions and, while this may be in part because of male genetic coding (he certainly doesn’t get that from his Mama!), I think it’s because Lucan’s always been present and active in his commute, and not observing it from the back seat of a car.
During our morning walks we hear birdsong, see various neighbourhood cats and often the local dog walker and dogs. One morning we noticed some small pink flowers blooming in an alley, and Lucan picked a bloom to give to his teacher. When school is over our daycare provider picks up all the kids and, if it’s a nice day, they play for an hour at the school playground before walking together back to the daycare.
You’ve likely heard the adage, “stop and smell the roses”. Well, in going car free, our family has done that and so much more.
More links to articles about the benefits of walking are here:

Check back tomorrow for information about “Pedestrian safety for children.”

written by Karon Trenaman