April 08, 2009

One Week Pedestrian Safety Blitz

If you've been cycling in Tokyo this week you may have noticed a policeman on every corner, a guard on every crossing and a host of mothers sporting "PTA on Patrol" armbands. What's going on? You may ask as I did when I witnessed it for the first time too many years ago.

Monday marked the start of a new school year and between 7:30 and 8:30am in particular the streets are overflowing with excited 6 year olds on their way to their first days at school. In Japan with roads being narrow, that youthful enthusiasm often spills out on to the road which is why you witness such a high level of adult supervision.

Each year around this time the police presence rises to an unbelievable level. Literally a policeman on every intersection, directing traffic, directing pedestrians, hassling cyclists with their individual unique interpretation of Japanese cycling laws. Where are these officers the other 51 weeks of the year? If they can provide such a show of protection for 1 week why not even a token show of interest outside of that week?

Its not just the police who disappear. After the first week of school, crossing guard numbers also fall. Sure the busier intersections are manned year round by civic minded retirees (for whom I'm grateful) but other intersections guarded so passionately for the first week of school are suddenly deemed safe and go unmanned.

Finally, the parents disappear. They drop out over a number of weeks as their children grow in confidence and finally their little ones are left to fend for themselves on their way to and from school.

Maybe I'm overprotective, but I walk my daughter to school every single morning and have witnessed the safety overkill of the first week of school fade to the point where its just a handful of crossing guards and me looking out for a quarter of the schools population.

Its not just traffic dangers parents expose their children to on their walk to and from school. Last year there were a number of disturbing incidents involving children from my daughters school, on in which a child's backpack was slashed by a man as he walked home. After that incident 2 policemen were stationed outside the school gates (which are already manned by a security guard) for a week even though the incident happened nowhere near the school. Would it be too much for them the get on their bikes and patrol the area? My daughters school has 4 official routes which children use to get to school, how hard can it be for a policeman to randomly patrol those routes by bike each morning?

As a deterrent to prospective child endangering nutjobs my wife and some other mothers considered it a good idea that I wear a bright orange PTA Patrol armband as I walk the kids to school, sending out an eye searing visual clue to everyone around that the children are being looked out for. When they bought up the idea with the PTA President it was rejected on the grounds that I do not attend PTA meetings. It really makes me wonder how serious these people are about protecting their children.

Anyway, I continue to walk my daughter to school every morning before continuing on my way to work and will do so till long after she thinks she is ready to fend for herself.

Seems I've gone off the cycling topic and into a rant but isn't that what blogging is all about?

If you're on the streets around the time children are heading to or from school, exercise a little safety in your riding or driving, as children and their movements are unpredictable at the best of times let alone when they're with 6 of their boisterous friends all pumped on first week of school excitement. Also, when the police, crossing guard, PTA and parent presence dies down, and you find yourself the only adult in a sea of kids, keep an eye open for anything suspicious or potentially dangerous and steer them away from it. Its the least we can do for parents and a society that think its safe for 6 year olds to walk the streets by themselves.

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