Schools Open Today — A Reminder of the Harmful Legacy of Cars and Kids

Thanks to cars, children in New York are never really safe. Photo: Bess Adler
Thanks to cars, children in New York are never really safe. Photo: Bess Adler

I have two kids who went to New York City public schools. Every day they left the house was another day when I feared they would not come back.

I wasn’t afraid of school shootings or abductions. I was afraid of my neighbors in their cars.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for school-age children in this country. Yet America remains in a parasitic relationship with the automobile: we aide and abet its use, even as cars cause tens of thousands of deaths every year and spew exhaust that is toxic to life on this planet.

Photo: Bess Adler
Photo: Bess Adler

In New York City, it’s a constant problem, of course — last year more than 200 people were killed — and tens of thousands injured — by drivers. Worse, millions of children in this city never grow up truly free — free to play in the street, free to chase a long fly ball, free to walk their dogs, free to say, “Hey, Dad, I’m running to the playground to meet my friends.”

In other words, they’re never free to be kids.

Several city agencies are working on the problem — but the Department of Education seems to have completely ignored its responsibility to the most vulnerable.

We have repeatedly asked the agency about the 3,000 crashes that school bus drivers caused over the last four years. We have asked about school bus driver records. We have asked about how drivers are vetted. We have asked why more streets in front of public schools aren’t closed to cars, at least during school hours. We have asked by 50,000 teachers get free parking at school every day, a perk that encourages the exact type of commute that kills kids.

None of our questions gets answered. It simply appears that the Department of Education is not a Vision Zero partner of the Department of Transportation.

So as children return to school today, we asked top New York City photographer Bess Adler to hit the streets for a few days and offer the following slideshows to remind parents what their children are up against every day — and to remember that cars are killing our children and stealing their childhoods.

Let’s stop the madness. We hope Bess Adler’s horrifying photos will help.

Inches from injury

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The danger is often unseen

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Kids have no room to roam

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Our culture itself is sick

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  • Vooch

    Up until the early 1980s children routinely played stickball on NYC streets.

  • Joe R.

    We have asked why 50,000 teachers get free parking at school every day, a perk that encourages the exact type of commute that kills kids.

    Also ask why they’ve appropriated play space for children on school grounds for teacher parking. That’s unjustifiable any way you look at it. The play areas at schools are often the only places where many kids can play without fear of cars or other dangers.

  • Matti

    Thanks for covering this topic. DOE should definitely do more to reduce car traffic and encourage teachers to use public transit. Its school buses are also dangerous.

  • Parent

    The streets directly in front of school entrances, when not on arterial roads/avenues, should be closed to automobile traffic for safety, health, and environmental reasons. It’s not so much to ask people who drive their kids to school to stop and let their kids off around the corner and have them walk the short remaining distance themselves, at least for kids in 3rd grade and up.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    with only the languid and occasional shout of “car”

  • When I was growing up, we played baseball (not stickball with a Spal-deen and pitching, but self-hitting baseball with a sponge ball) and football in the main street of our neighbourhood. It was like a sports complex.

  • djx

    We need school buses. And at current staffing levels, it’s important the buses stop at the school, not further way – the loading and offloading is hectic and keep track of kids is not simple.

    My own child does not take the bus, but I watch the kids coming off at school and it’s important that it happens right at the school, and a good think busing is offered.

  • Joe R.

    All the more reason not to allow teachers or others in private cars to park in front of a school. These places should be designated school bus loading zones, at least during normal school hours.

  • Joe R.

    Now even the formerly quiet side blocks where you might have a few cars every hour have constant traffic during much of the day. I remember Sundays especially was usually dead. Nowadays there’s just as much traffic as any other day of the week.

  • Miriam

    I was a nervous wreck on the first day my kids walked to their middle school. It should not be that way.

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