On Thursday last week I was power walking about fifty-metres behind the Hosking-Hawkesby newlyweds, who were taking their grooms-dog for its morning walk, when up ahead I spied an obstacle. A van had parked diagonally across the pavement and the grass making progress for pedestrians difficult.
Moving into single file, the newly-weds took the narrowest path between a wall and the left of the van. Hosking brushed overhanging garden foliage as he passed so I chose the slightly wider path to the right of the illegally parked van.
However, thanks to a large truck parked at the road's edge, there still wasn't much room. At the narrowest point I encountered the van's driver, who was carrying part of a real estate sign, walking towards me. "Sorry," he said as he stood back while I edged through. Not only had he blocked eighty per cent of the width of the designated pedestrian area but he was using the only available space to remove the sign.
I recount the humdrum minutiae of this episode of suburban footpath-hogging, of drivers blithely disregarding the needs of pedestrians, to illustrate why thousands of parents drive their children to school when in a perfect world we'd be letting them walk. While perambulation may be great for the environment, the children's sense of independence and our city's congested roads, legions of parents justifiably feel it may be hazardous to their offspring's health and safety.
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You see, it's no longer enough to teach children to be wary of driveways and to look both ways when crossing the road. When unpredictable, illegal manoeuvres from drivers are the norm - and when vehicles routinely commandeer pavements - how can parents hope to adequately prepare their children?
Because my nearly nine-year-old has been advised to stay well away from vehicles, she would not have been sure how to proceed through the little challenge I encountered last week. She knows that vehicle doors can suddenly open and clock short people in the head, yet she'd have been at risk of this whether she opted to go to the left or the right of the van. And if she'd taken the path I chose who's to say the oncoming worker would even have seen her? Given her height, he may have kept on walking and knocked her with the sign.
And, because the vehicle was facing a wall, its next manoeuvre would be to reverse. Now I knew that and the Hosking-Hawkesbys would have known that but a child - probably skipping, humming and planning on trading some Moshlings later in the day - would have been oblivious to the fact that a van was poised to reverse along a pavement towards them.
This scenario was actually quite straightforward in comparison to the one I usually encounter: that is, a tradesman's van with trailer attached parked over a driveway across both the pavement and the grassed area, effectively blocking the entire space allotted to pedestrians.
In such instances a walker must decide whether to enter private property to pass in front of the vehicle - or veer out onto the road to walk behind the trailer. The factors that influence such a decision are many: whether the vehicle and trailer are on an incline, the orientation of the incline and how steep it is; whether a driver is in the vehicle, and whether he's aware of the pedestrian; how far onto the road the trailer is intruding; how busy the road is; how fast the traffic is moving; how wide the road is; whether a blind corner is involved. This is all far too much for a child to have to process in the supposedly simple act of walking to school.
Unfortunately tradesmen's vehicles - and their associated inconsiderate parking - are dime a dozen in my neighbourhood and many parts of Auckland as the process of rampant gentrification continues. It sure wasn't like that in my old 'hood. I recently drove past my first school (Raureka Primary) and the houses in the vicinity looked virtually untouched from almost forty years ago. As far as I could tell, no stone walls, fancy gates, second stories, conservatories, olive groves or lap pools had been added to residences in Gordon Road, Hastings.
In fact, the absence of tradesmen, coupled with remarkably flat terrain, makes my old stomping ground an ideal environment for children walking to school. But - along with many other parents accused of being overprotective - I won't be asking my daughter to navigate the hazardous footpaths of suburban Auckland in a hurry. So-called "cotton-wool parenting" emerged to counter precisely such unpredictable situations.