Opinions

The bus of many feet

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In the 1980s it was suggested that we, "Walk like an Egyptian," but in the new millennium, how about walking like an Italian? You could certainly walk a mile in the shoes of a wealthy New Yorker if it's the infamous Italian leather shoes you crave, but this piece isn't about fashionable Italian craftsmanship, but young students in the town of Lecco, Italy, who are taking us all to school when it comes to community, exercise and environmentalism.

School children in this small town have embarked on the piedibus (which, in Italian, literally translates to "walking bus"), walking to and from school, adding more and more pairs of little feet at each "stop" en route. This community has embraced the lessons of old, combating childhood obesity and promoting well-being with some good old fashioned promenading to school. The New York Times reports that more than half the children at Carducci school in Lecco now walk, chaperoned by volunteer parents and teachers. Many parents are thrilled to see their children learning road safety and getting exercise, all while taking in some fresh air, which in my estimation always smells of tiramisu and zabaglione.

Ok, so maybe the air doesn't always smell of gourmet dessert, but the air quality can only improve as fewer and fewer keys are turning ignitions each morning. Residents of Lecco are also keen on the piedibus system because it encourages a small but meaningful change that contributes to the strong commitment of EU states that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Although some children are still driven to school, the ripple effect of this small town's example across the continent and in the U.K. has created big environmental dividends.

Thinking of my own route to school, I can't help but feel less and less justified driving. Surrendering my $3.50 to the Lot 10 attendant is never without guilt and more than a simple lack of financial prudence, my conscience is troubled, knowing that small children are making the effort while I (free transit pass in hand) find feebly-legitimate excuses to drive to school each day. So I resolved to use my vehicle as little as possible for transit to school. Low and behold, after a single week of using only public transit and walking 45 minutes each day, I overcame my seasonal insomnia; I saved almost $20 on parking (resulting in a monthly savings of almost $80) not to mention the money I saved on fuel and most interestingly, I realized just how much more connected I feel to my city and community when I slow down and let someone else do the driving.

I asked myself how many other students -- such as me -- could easily switch entirely from driving to using transit or carpooling every day.

Drawing on the lessons of Lecco, incentive-based pizza parties might be a good place to start.

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