ULTIMATE RANT | Hey Telluride Parents – Stop Driving Your Kids to School

By Allison Perry | 11/9/15

On Aug. 31 Herb Manning brought up a couple of issues in “Telluride Sweet Rants and Bitching” that are near and dear to my heart: parents and cars.

“Instead of police directing traffic into the schools today, shouldn’t they be passing out ‘frivolous driving’ tickets to all the parents that live in town but still drive their kids to school?” he inquired, adding “It’s called a bike…or legs.”

Yes. YES.

There is a traffic problem in Telluride that is, at least in part, attributable to parents dropping off students. As Rick Lane reminds us, “Building the roundabout was supposed to alleviate this problem and eliminate the need for an officer there. In my experience, it’s now as bad or worse than it was before.” He then adds, “But you are right, Herb, it is the unnecessary driving of kids to school as every kid that lives in town can get there on their own and out-of-town kids have buses. There should be no cars allowed into the school parking lot except to park, not drop off, in the morning and let’s see if the parents can figure it out.”

Sounds reasonable, right?

It sounds especially reasonable to anyone who has been late to work on a weekday morning, despite leaving amply early from the surrounding areas, while pounding the steering wheel and screaming in frustration at traffic.

Part of small-town Colorado’s allure, in my opinion, is the mentality that we only really drive when we need to. Contrast this to, say, Cleveland, Ohio, where the snowplows routinely dump enormous piles of snow directly onto bike paths in the winter, and people driving to and from the corner store half a block away look at you like a monkey in the zoo for actually ambulating to get around rather than driving. I’d say one of the biggest perks of living in a town like Telluride is its walkability and culture that encourages people to be outside as often as possible.

I get that some people have to drive to town for work or to drop children off, or both. Some people live in Lawson. Placerville. Ophir. The mesa. Etc. The public transportation in this town and its surrounding areas is certainly not widespread and regular enough to guarantee that everyone will be able to use it to get to work or school and be on time.

This rant is not aimed at people who need to drive, or even drive on occasion because it makes things a bit more convenient. I get it.

My rant, spurred by Manning’s rant, is more directed at people who insist on driving their children who are of an appropriate age to walk, take a bus or ride a bike to school, and contribute needlessly and somewhat selfishly to the infuriating traffic problem this town should not have.

Didn’t we all move here precisely because a small town is supposed to be free of big city problems such as crime, traffic, and pollution?

Don’t we as parents, or future parents, settle here because to some extent we want, as Michelle Y Davis says “…to duplicate the independence of walking to school and extra curricular activities that I had growing up downtown in a small historic town” for our kids?

I understand that a kindergarten student can’t just get tossed on a bike and shoved out the door, but Manning’s rant is pointed toward older kids who are more than able to walk the half a mile, or ride a bike a whole mile or two, with a backpack to get their bar-mitzvah-aged asses to class on time.

If your child is old enough to own a DH bike and ride the bike park, for example, or she has a full quiver of skis and rides the resort unchaperoned on weekends, why on Earth can’t she also be trusted to walk to school, take a bus, or ride a bike? Just because walking to school is seen as a chore? Well…perhaps it shouldn’t be. And perhaps parents should be making a more concerted effort to teach their children that walking  a short distance in a beautiful, safe town is about as good as it gets.

Stanya Gorraiz says it more nicely than I, stating “Not only does walking, riding a bike or taking the bus help the community with congestion and the environment with pollution, there’s the added benefit of teaching kids a bit of independence…something we fully support in a society where some kids today are too overprotected.”

In an age where childhood obesity has hit all time highs, and kids are beginning to show a sense of entitlement and need for instant gratification (thank you iPhone) that I’ve never even seen before, isn’t teaching kids to walk or ride a bike to school, even in (gasp!) bad weather, one small way we can still teach them that the world doesn’t revolve around them, and that they have to learn to be responsible for their own autonomy at some point? Isn’t it also so much healthier as well, to teach them cars are for long distances, not simply door-to-door service and as a means to avoid walking?

Furthermore, guess who grows up to become an adult who drives everywhere, despite readily available public transportation, and the existence of legs and bikes? Well, yes, everyone who grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, but also, kids whose parents taught them that an automobile was the only acceptable way to get from point A to point B.

I had the good fortune to grow up in a city that celebrates walking, and has one of the best public transportation systems in the known universe. So good, in fact, that I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 28 years old. Did my dad drop me off at school on his way to work in the car often? Yes. But I was also often left to fend for myself, walking, taking the subway, or riding a bus to get to school. I also walked home from school every day, with my heavy backpack, after grueling sports practices, and learned to enjoy the time to myself, being outside, and, sometimes burning a few extra calories if practice got cancelled or I had McDonald’s for lunch that day. I carried this feeling with me to college, and often the only exercise my freshman-15-gaining lazy ass ever got was walking to and from class.

Sometimes the only peace of mind I had during rough times was spent walking to and from class, watching the leaves change, catching snowflakes on my eyelashes, marveling at the savage gusts of wind in the deep freeze of a Wisconsin February, feeling like I had conquered Everest by the time I arrived home, but somehow strangely grateful and invigorated after my time outside.

I digress.

As Lee Smith eloquently summarizes, “If your kid is capable of walking to school but you insist on driving them for comfort and convenience, you’re a bitch and you’re probably raising a helpless turd.”

While Smith’s message is a wee bit harsh since there are definitely some legit scenarios in which kids get dropped off, I do have to agree with a gentler version of this message: which is to say there is a certain amount of parental entitlement inherent in the act of driving a 13 or 14 year old child half a mile to school and not giving a crap about the traffic problems to which it contributes, and that a child that expects to be chauffeured even the tiniest of distances in a beautiful, safe town might be learning some habits that are counter to the Telluride way of being.

As Rick Lane puts it, “[This] wasn’t the norm when I was going to school but that was back in the stone age. It definitely wasn’t the norm here thirty years ago and the only thing that really changed is the people: though the school has been rebuilt, it’s in the same place and part of town.”

Darcie Gordon agrees, commenting “Born and raised in Telluride…when I lived down valley we took the bus. When we lived in town we walked…and yes, it was the norm to not be driven to school.”

While I’ve only been here three years and haven’t personally witnessed these changes, I know overprotective parental units when I see them. In my opinion, parenting culture at large has shifted toward more protection, micromanagement and even paranoia.

Perhaps rightly so – to a certain extent, and in certain areas. Thanks largely to the Internet and the high proliferation of stories and images about what can happen to children who are left to wander the streets alone for even a moment, parents are on high alert for bullies, terrorists, rapists, drunk drivers, kidnappers (who might also be drunk drivers) and drug dealers.

Add this to the usual Colorado-friendly fears of gluten, soy, meat, and an outbreak of Ebola hovering in the aura of every stranger your kid might pass, and you have a recipe for a parent who can’t bear to let their child do anything without some kind of vetted, reliable, trusted supervisor.

However, kidnappers, drugs, bullies, diseases and drunks existed far before any of us were even born, and they’re probably never going to go away. Wouldn’t it be better to teach your child what to do in an unlikely emergency scenario, like getting invited into the back of a rusted-out van by a man with a puppy and a whole bunch of candy? Wouldn’t it be nice to walk them to school when they’re old enough and show them the safest and correct route to walk, which in Telluride is somewhat unnecessary since even the darkest alleys in this town are safe?

As Eric Beerman’s cartoon in the comments thread aptly portrays – and not in a good way – some parents are enmeshed in their child’s lives on every level, hovering over them with a bottle of hand sanitizer, making sure they don’t get hurt bodies or hurt feelings, constantly monitoring the messages they receive, manipulating life to be on their terms.

Maybe freeing up some gridlock, letting your middle-school-aged kids get themselves to school, and reducing the road rage of the people who truly do have to drive to town in the morning would be a win-win-win.

While our traffic isn’t quite the catastrophe we ranters like to make it out to be – hyperbole is, after all, the cornerstone of good ranting – it is symptomatic of other things.

Gone are the days of letting our kids get banged up or dirty in the process of learning lessons that they will carry with them the rest of their lives. Gone are the days of teaching kids independence by allowing them to live it, rather than just listing the rules and telling them about what it’s like to wander the world without being tethered to a safety net and a giant tube of hand sanitizer and a box full of healthy, gluten free, organic snacks.

When I was a kid I took my knocks, scraped my knees, ate dirt, rub the dirt in aforementioned scraped knees, got snapped at by dogs, crossed the street by myself and learned what was an acceptable extent to push my body.

I am not afraid of the world. I know what to do if I get lost. I can calculate risk versus reward to a decent extent and I don’t expect people to do things for me to erase or negate every degree of frustration from my life. My parents were protective of me to a degree that some parents I see today would probably define as negligence. Which I define as absolutely pathetic.

So, mommy and daddy, why don’t you think a little bit about why “seeing your kids off” to school necessitates a vehicle, and perhaps what an acceptable age might be for them to see themselves off. Instead of spending money on gas, why not spend it on a townie bike or a sweet pair of new sneakers for your offspring to use to get to school, and spend your morning hours kid-free and out of traffic.

More importantly, why would you choose to miss out on the opportunity to walk your kid to school and have an extra fifteen or twenty minutes of real quality time with them? You are aware we live in a gorgeous, active, quaint, safe and small mountain town, yes?

And worry not! You can still be overprotective. If, as on the first day of school, they have a ton of crap to bring with them, put some in your own backpack and lighten their load. You can lift their little bodies gently over curbs and puddles, clench their little hands as you cross the street, teaching them to look both ways no less than eight times, and selflessly throw yourself in front of bikes, skateboards, gangbangers and packs of wild dogs, all of which are out to murder your small children.

Instruct them to motor right over to the now ubiquitous hand sanitizer dispenser the moment they walk in to school. (Remember though, over-use of hand sanitizer has been linked to childhood asthma, so perhaps just skip the damn hand sanitizer unless you know they were juggling dead mice on the way to school.)

You can show them that walking, or riding a bike in the morning, is a healthy and relaxing way to commute.

You can teach them that they still have to get to and from point A and B even when the weather is bad, and that they can’t always rely on someone to make things cushy and easy for them. We have come a long way in society in inventing clothing that will protect them even when it’s raining or snowing. And since weather is a part of life, might as well let them figure out how to bundle up and navigate our tough streets regardless of what Mother Nature is tossing at them.

Walking with them or letting them get themselves to school via their own human-powered limbs will also teach them exercise is a good thing, even in small doses. You can’t do any of that when you’re both strapped into the seat of an SUV, spitting pollutants into the air, waiting for the merry-go-round of cars to bring you to the front door of the school where you can open the door and yell “Have a good day!” at little Susie’s back.

Perhaps, as Lane comments, instead of defending their choice to drive their kids to school, people should be putting their heads together to come up with ways to alleviate the traffic and make this town more pleasant and convenient for everyone who lives here, rather than just oneself.

Or, as Steffi Van Damme advises as we head toward the off-season and six weeks of no gondola: take a deep breath, and “For the love of god…get over it. Some drive, some walk, some are lazy, some are rude, some are nice, some are tired, some are late…. Enjoy the view while you wait in line and move on with your day.”

Allison Perry’s Ultimate Rant finds its inspiration from the Facebook group page, “Telluride Sweet Rants and Bitching”, a forum to discuss ideas, businesses, housing, government, or anything else related to Telluride, the region, and its people.