In 1969, roughly half of American kids walked or biked to school. By 2009, that number had dropped to 13%.
A video of Unionville Elementary, in a rural area outside Charlotte, North Carolina, perfectly illustrates the absurdity of the daily parental chauffeur system. In the video, the 700-student school is testing a new curved path for cars in an attempt to clear traffic from the highway. (The experiment, while much more orderly than the usual chaos at school drop-offs, wasn't a success, so it wasn't permanently implemented.)
There are a series of design flaws at work. Sprawling development in the area makes it hard to do anything but drive anywhere. Without sidewalks or bike lanes—like the rural bike paths in the Netherlands—kids can't safely walk or ride. (The school bus, apparently, also doesn't run on a schedule that syncs with student needs.)
So the elementary students here miss out on the benefits of an active commute—better academic performance and a source of daily exercise at a time when a third of American kids are overweight or obese. And as parents sit idling, emissions rise. If students around the country returned to 1969 patterns of walking and biking to school, it would cut an estimated 1.5 million tons of CO2 pollution every year.