Home > Complete Streets, Cultural Movement, Visual Stimulus, Walking > The Other Side of the School Car-line

The Other Side of the School Car-line

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post originally posted on Sept. 22, 2011

Parents line up in the drop-off car-line at Glenn Loomis School (photo GLHJR)

The car-line is an odd phenomena to watch as dozens of parents sit idling in their cars, waiting their turn to move up the queue and have their children escorted into the fenced-in playground. It is an extremely controlled and rather cold thing to watch.

What is the lesson being taught in this experience? 

Contrast that with the experience and lesson of Wren’s journey with her mother, Ashlea, to the same school on the same day, which appears to be nothing but smiles.

Asked to comment on their commute, Ashlea replied:

She loves getting in and out of her trailer “by myself!” There is a much smoother transition between home and school when we experience the commute like this together. It also seems to help develop a greater sense of place and time as Wren likes to point out things on our way, like the changing leaves, the weather, construction equipment or garbage trucks, the different dogs and people we see on their morning stroll and can interact with on our way.

Because I’m not waiting impatiently in an idling carline or trying to find a parking spot and wasting time and energy, I’m a much happier commuter too and this reflects on Wren’s attitude toward the experience of leaving home and Mom to go to school. No waiting, no stress!

If I can do it while 35 weeks pregnant with another future student, anyone can, right?!

Ashlea blogs at Squirrels in Wren’s Nest


How’s your child’s commute?


Tuesday’s video post inspired a reader to comment on the same thought, including a link to this Brain Power Rule #1 video:

  1. September 22, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I know that there are a lot of reasons these folks are driving and not walking/cycling their children to Glen Loomis but I’m guessing that one part of it is that a lot of them have been priced out of housing within walking/cycling distance of the school and have no option other than drive or put their children on a bus. This picture of the carline says as much to me about land use choices as it does about how people decide to get their kids to school. For example, there’s a big vacant lot on 13th Street that with some creative zoning changes could be built out with townhouses that could accommodate maybe (just guessing) ten families, all within walking distance of Glen Loomis. The only walkable/cyclable areas of TC are largely right in town and, unfortunately, young families are some of the least likely people to be able to live there because they can’t afford the size house they need.

  2. Josh DeBruyn
    September 22, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Great Post/ Subject Today. My wife and I take our son (he is 3) to daycare several times a week by bike. While we don’t have a “Carline” to deal with when we arrive, we do have many of the same conversation and observations as Ashlea and Wren. Just this morning our son was very talkative and point out things like the lights on the smoke stacks are for the planes, the rowers in the water have blinky lights on them, the tanker truck is “feeding the car transporter” and he even said “maybe we’ll see a garbage truck”. Some people have suggested that it is too cold out (it is in the upper 40’s at 7 am) to be doing this but our son says it is “refreshing.” By the time we get to daycare he is exposed to 15-20 minutes of cool, crisp, clean and energizing fresh air. What a great way to start the day!

  3. Sharon
    September 22, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I can’t see photos like this without recalling my bitter feelings when TCAPS closed Oak Park, my kids’ elementary school and one with the highest percentage of walkers. I agree with Mike that we need more affordable housing in town; TCAPS administration cited as one of the reasons for closing Oak Park as “your neighborhood is too expensive for young families, so enrollment will only continue to decline.” At the same time, TCAPS completely rebuilt Old Mission, which reopened with a lower enrollment than Oak Park had at closing.

    I’m grateful my children have been among those privileged few who could always walk to school, save the years of exile at East Middle School. Studies have shown that kids who walk to school get better grades, so I attribute my kids’ top academic performance at least partially to this. And, this summer, I was shocked when my senior son, checking out colleges, informed me that he prefers to go to a school in a location conducive to car-free living, which he also wants to continue doing after college. He said, “a car is a waste of money when I can get around on my bike.” Apparently our refusal to drive him around is no longer such draconian behavior in his eyes!

    Incidentally, BATA is a nice option for high school students who live near a Cherriott route, especially in the winter when a kid may not be as enthusiastic for an early morning bike commute. We have to pay for this, but it’s no more expensive than driving a kid to school and it’s far cheaper than furnishing a teen with a car!

  4. Max
    September 22, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Everyone’s situation is different, but I would encourage people to really take a close look at whether living in town is so unaffordable. When we were looking to buy a house, we seriously considered one outside the city because the price and taxes were lower. In the end I insisted on being in the city because driving is a problem for me and it’s so hard to access town with no sidewalks or shoulders to ride/walk on.

    I figured better non-car mobility of town living might be worth paying more, but I think it actually ended up saving us money since we stopped using the car to get back and forth from school, work, grocery store etc. Back in ’06 this saved us around $80/month and once the gas prices exploded, even more-so.

    There are many affordable homes in town if you look toward the south end of town in the Traverse Heights area. Maybe you have to go a bit smaller than you want, but it’s so worth it to be able to just step outside your house and walk or bike everywhere. There’s also value in reduced stress of driving and waiting in these type of car lines.

    Again, I know everyone’s situation is different and might not equate to ours, but my family is in the low income range and we have managed to live in town for 6 years now. I really love it a lot. If we pay more, it’s been totally worth it, but I think we ended up paying less.

  5. matt
    September 22, 2011 at 10:01 am

    The big 13th st. lot is zoned residential already. TCAPS owns it and tried to get bids on it.

    Not many people have money to build 10 townhouses and banks don’t want to lend money for real estate construction at the moment.

  6. Josh DeBruyn
    September 22, 2011 at 10:04 am

    The Center for Neighborhood Technology developed a model called “Housing and Transportation Index” that uses 2000 Census data to calculate housing affordability when you factor in transportation costs. Unfortunately it doesn’t include Traverse City Area, but they are working on a new model using 2010 numbers that will likely include TC. It is an interesting tool the play with. http://htaindex.cnt.org/

  7. September 22, 2011 at 10:07 am

    Thanks Josh, interesting and helpful link.

  8. September 22, 2011 at 10:31 am

    I agree that the lot is zoned residential. My point (not well made) was more that attached housing is an option that’s not available very widely in TC. And not available on that lot with the current zoning. Attached housing is typically cheaper to build than detached. But given the lack of political will in TC to
    even remotely increase density in the neighborhoods (recall the dust-up over granny flats), I’m not holding my breath for more attached housing. Except maybe on a somewhat “edge” property like the 13th Street lot.

  9. September 22, 2011 at 11:03 am

    Glenn Loomis kicks-off their Walking School Bus program Wed. Oct. 5th and it will run all winter through summer 2012. One route is from 9th & Wadsworth to school departing at 7:50AM. WANTED: Walking School Bus leaders & riders.

  10. September 22, 2011 at 11:30 am

    I really appreciate Mike’s point about land use. And to take it one step deeper, most land use is dictated by our reliance and addiction to the automobile.

    It can also be something simpler if real estate agents, home-sellers, and banks would begin to value walkability as an economic function of a home transaction. The numbers suggest strongly that the average American spends between $5000 and $7500 per year on vehicle ownership. The folks at Bikes At Work have a great calculator to help you determine what the real costs of car ownership are for your family, and most importantly what you COULD afford if you didn’t have to carry those costs. You can put in your own real-world numbers or just click “calculate” to use the average number for the U.S.. http://www.bikesatwork.com/carfree/cost-of-car-ownership.html

    Using the average number for Americans, here’s the quote that pops out of the calculator on homeownership, “If you didn’t own a car and bought a house using your monthly automobile savings, you could obtain a $114,252.72 home mortgage, assuming a 5% fixed, 30-year loan. This would be enough to cover 59.81% of the purchase price of the median existing home in the US in Dec 2004, according to the National Association of Realtors.” WOW!

    So maybe that house on 5th Street downtown isn’t out of range after all.

  11. September 22, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Very cool!

  12. James
    September 22, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I absolutely agree, Mike.

    Don’t forget about the Depot property. It’s another example of the TC not having enough political will to add density.
    The property will have mixed-income housing, which is great. But, developers are limited to building one-story structures because of the inadequate infrastructure under the property. There were tools available to help pay for the costs of repairing that infrastructure, but no one seemed interested in pursuing them.
    So what could have been a great project, becomes a good project.

    You could easily double the population of TC by adding granny flats, adding 2-3 stories to single-story buildings, and developing spaces that are dedicated to auto storage. The demand is there but, as you pointed out, the will is not.

    The 39-unit workforce housing that just opened at the Village is a great step in the right direction.

    I also think we’d be surprised at the number of people who live within a walking distance or bus distance – but still choose to drive their kids to school. 🙂

  13. Glenn Loomis parent
    September 22, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Carline at Glenn Loomis is insane and parents are asked to turn their cars off when they are not actively moving in line. We live in the neighborhood and walk and bike as much as possible as do most families in the neighborhood. However, Glenn Loomis is a magnet school and many of the families do not live within reasonable bike/walk commuting distance from school. The school does not have any bussing services and no parking lot available – the lot across from Thirlby is roped off – so carline has been the alternative. We hope the Walking School Bus kicking off on Oct. 5th will help alleveiate some of the congestion issues and encourage healthier habits.

  14. James
    September 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Center for NT ran the numbers for the 10-county region last year.

    Grand Traverse County:

    Annual transportation costs: $11,499
    Percent of income: 26.6%
    Average housing costs: $11,436
    Percent of population where h+t is greater than 45% of median income: 88.6% (too high)

    It would be interesting to look at city vs. county.

    Since ’08, housing prices in the city did not fall nearly as much as housing prices in the county. This tells us there is strong demand for housing in the walkable core of TC that is not being met.

  15. matt
    September 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    You may be forgetting that the people who live in TC don’t want to “easily double” the population of TC. They have political will as well. Of course, they should realize that making Traverse City more walkable/bike-able is a win for everyone.

  16. James
    September 22, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    I should have added: …”allow for” the population to easily double.

  17. September 23, 2011 at 8:18 am

    This image was sent in from a reader who takes their child to Glenn Loomis. It shows the tail-end of the carline from yesterday afternoon. There are two cars idling in the crosswalks/intersection, two moving lanes of traffic adjacent to that and a student navigating the entire scene on their bicycle. A bit messy to say the least.


    Reminds me of the reasoning for the 3-4 block no drop-off radius around schools in parts of The Netherlands. But, we can also look to a school on this continent to see that other systems are possible: A One of a Kind Walking, Biking School Opens in Canada

  18. Glenn Loomis parent
    September 23, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Sadly, the photo above is a common site and drives me crazy and there are specific directions in carline rules given to every family prohibiting. (Of course they are told to drive around the block and then try to reenter carline if there is room – that’s a great environmental move. If they parked and walked up like many parents they would get to their children faster). Most days, the Principal or other staff member or parent volunteer stands at that corner in a safety vest to keep that from happening. Of course, when “big brother” isn’t watching – that’s what the parents do. Not a great model of “the courtesy and respect” philospohy of Montessori that their children are being taught in school.

  19. Chris
    October 5, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I think it can be hard, especially with younger children, especially in the morning. On nice days, we do all try to ride together, but there are also days where there just isn’t time or it’s just not going to happen, and I drop them off. I will say that we all do like it much better when we don’t go in the car. Another thing I do, even on days when we go in the car, is ride my bike to work. I have a folding bike that I keep in my trunk, and my kids know that I’m riding, even when we don’t all ride together. I’m hoping that by modelling the behaviour, they’ll be more inclined to pick it up themselves, once they’re a little older.

  1. September 23, 2011 at 9:37 am

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