Roads and crosswalks are more complicated than many realize.
Though WalkSafe's conceptualization in 2001 was originally for elementary children, some of the concepts discussed in our Virtual Education lessons may be difficult for our youngest readers to fully comprehend.
This is intentional.
Street design affects us all in a very similar manner, regardless of our age or ability. Unfortunately, US streets and crosswalks are often designed with pedestrian safety as a last, not first, priority. Thus, even though the safety of our children is directly affected by these design nuances, it is not always possible to simplify these details.
If we were to oversimplify this reality, we would mislead our youths three times over: First, by making streets seem safer than they are; secondly, by not giving them an opportunity to brainstorm solutions to the safety issues that directly affect them; and finally, by failing to indicate that pedestrian facilities must equitably serve people of all ages who use white canes, mobility aids, and wheelchairs.
This happens to be a major issue with the way safety is approached in the United States and Canada. As the Vision Zero Network
puts it, "...the vast amount of the burden of safety [is put on] on individual road users, rather than the system in which those individuals are moving in, including the built environment, appropriate speed limits, and policies and regulations. This sends the message that the most effective way to improve safety is to somehow reach every individual on the road and convince them — individually — to make sure their behavior is perfect 100% of the time. Good luck with that!"
While we are aware that a child of age five will not necessarily have the cognitive ability
to avoid all dangerous situations, that same child deserves the opportunity to learn about the complexity of street safety to the best of their ability. Even if full comprehension is not possible, they'll have an exposure to foundational principles that they will eventually understand as they grow up.
As AICP planner Don Kostelec
explains: "It’s unfair to engineer a road so it sets the driver, the bicyclist, the pedestrian up for tragic results due to the most minor mistake."
Indeed, this is the reality of our roads today. Leading our children and parents to believe that kids can navigate such a system by "simply stopping and looking left right left," only maintains the myth that our pedestrian environments are safe so long as we behave safely within them.
We highly suggest that you read through the Crosswalk Conundrums
Lesson to get an idea of how right turns on red and unprotected left turns can make simple crosswalks dangerous to navigate - even for adults. These overcomplicated solutions set both drivers and pedestrians up for avoidable crashes.
This is why we have included an entire Lesson, Better Streets for Kids
, which introduces children to examples of innovative street designs that prioritize the safety of people walking, rolling, or riding bicycles first.
While safe streets are becoming more and more commonplace in US cities, not every child has the opportunity to see these designs in their hometown. Sharing these designs ensures that our youth realizes that our streets aren't inflexible.
We also believe many children are already aware of lapses in street safety and have the ability to bring ideas to the table on their own. Case in point, Mikael Colville-Andersen (of The Life-Sized City and the Copenhagenize Design Co.) documented in 2013 how his son's third-grade class reimagined the roundabout around their school in a simple craft project
. In the US, a 2nd grade class in Ft. Lupton, Colorado showed their spirit of civic engagement by asking their city council for safe bike lanes to their school
. Don't underestimate the power and innovation of the child.
This said, we do support the recommendation made by the National Center for Safe Routes to School and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that children, in general, should not cross a street alone until age 10
. Nevertheless, children should still be aware of - and involved in - street safety long before that age.