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Transportation – Natural Kids In the City

17 November, 2010

Living in an urban environment gives your family a unique opportunity to teach your children, by example, how to live an environmentally friendly existence. There is no area that shows this more dramatically than the area of transportation.

If you were to be living in a rural environment, great distances would need to be travelled to seek out groceries, clothing, gifts and to access services such as specialists appointments. In some circumstances, vast distances are travelled each day, where one or more adults work outside of the home property. And all this is done in your own vehicle. Australia, in particular, is a wide land with a vastly spread population, with over 85% of the population living within 50kms (31 miles) of the coast. The 15% of the population who live further inland often travel hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres to access basic services.

In an urban environment, public transport is accessible and often plentiful. Inner city environments have a variety of trains, subways, ferries, trams, buses and taxis (or cabs). Many city environments are designed with cycleways and pedestrian only areas. The Netherlands is a great example of this. All major towns and cities are not only serviced by cycleways, but there are cycleways traversing the distances between the cities and towns. Cycleways in the Netherlands have lanes, traffic signals, tunnels and their own rules. However, many cities around the world have cycleways or are adding them to the urban landscape as environmental awareness increases.

City environments are also designed with most goods and services in close proximity, allowing walking or cycling to be a viable transport option. Walking and cycling are not only carbon neutral, but offer obvious exercise benefits often lacking in our sedentary lifestyles. Young children may only be able to walk short distances, but there are many other options available, such as baby carrier or sling, a pram or stroller, or an older child may be able to ride a bike while the adults walk.

Young children will enjoy being outdoors, travelling from one place to another, particularly if they spend a lot of their time indoors, which is common in urban areas. Children who are old enough to be mobile but too young to walk the distance themselves may appreciate a chance to walk alongside you for short distances, or may need breaks at some play equipment, park or other safe place they can exert some energy. It is also a wonderful opportunity to teach road safety, and pedestrian courtesy (such as moving to the side of the path – left in Australia and right in the US – to allow others to pass – either because of their speed or the amount of space required on the path).

While you are outside, take the opportunity to talk about the weather, or cloud formations or the animals, plants or people that you see. Count with the building numbers or find familiar words on signs. Allow plenty of time for the journey, particularly as you adjust your family to the concept of walking rather than using your car. Pack plenty of water to drink as well as snacks and changes of clothes for young children.

Public transport, otherwise known as public transportation, public transit or mass transit, has been proven to be the most energy efficient way to travel, after walking and bicycle riding. When medium to large groups of people travel together, the emissions cost is shared between the travellers, and creates much fewer emissions than travelling the same distance by an individual motor vehicle. In the United States, 50% of all air pollution is produced by road vehicles, most of these being cars. For every mile travelled per passenger the fuel consumption is less than half of what would have been used by the individual travelling in their own car. It also produces less than 10% of the carbon monoxide and other smog producing gases.

Suburban environments provide their own challenges. Oftentimes (particularly in Australia) the suburbs of any given city are widely spread. Buses only run on certain routes and the trains don’t service every area, and services are also more widely spread. Choosing to use public transportation in a suburban environment can be more of a challenge, but still a worthy one. It may involve catching a bus to your local shopping centre to do the grocery shopping and arranging for home delivery or buying a smaller amount of groceries so that you are able to carry it home on the bus. It may involve a short to medium walk to get to the bus stop, then another walk on the other end of your bus journey to get to your destination. If you live near the train line, you have greater ease of access to more places. It is worth considering if you are to move houses, whether you can be close to a train line, or any form of public transportation.

In urban environments we have a choice. We can choose to use our own car or we can choose to use public transport. When we choose to travel by public transport we should discuss with our children, in age appropriate terms, why we are making the decision to travel by public transport. Public transport can be a fun experience for young children, and we should ensure that it is kept “fun” and not becoming a chore in your child’s eyes.

One great activity that can be enjoyed by children approximately four and older is counting all the empty seats on the bus (or carriage). You can then talk about how many fewer cars there might be on the road if the bus was full. The older the children are, the more complicated you could make the activity. You could talk about how many cars would be off the road if each car was full (five occupants), or if each car had only one or two people in it. You might like to discuss with older children (six and older) how to encourage more people to use public transport. As part of this discussion, you may want to include some reasons that other people may not choose to use public transportation. This could lead to inventions that overcome perceived obstacles or an advertising campaign designed by your child!

Using public transportation can also be a great way to spend time together as a family. When travelling by car, the driver has to focus on the road, and is unable to look at things a child may point to. On public transportation a distressed child can be comforted with a hug, or a story read to a bored child. Take a trip on public transportation this week and enjoy the experience with your family!

This article first appeared in Natural Child Magazine

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