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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Youth Sports and the Car (plus a couple random links)

Hello readers. Apologies for the light posting as of late. I have been balancing my life against coaching a Capital Beltway League football team, the Silver Spring Saints. It's a four night a week commitment, which soaks up a lot of my free time.As I get used to the hustle and bustle of football season, I'm sure the posts will pick up again.

It has lead me to realize something about youth sports, however. I find that they are an extremely valuable asset to communities all over the US. They teach numerous good values, and keep kids occupied at hours when they might be engaging in some less than admirable activities. One value they do not teach, however, is responsible transportation practices.

Admittedly, it's not exactly responsible for me to drive from my job in Anne Arundel County past my house in Laurel down to Silver Spring to coach this team, but I'm going to coach it, and transit just isn't an option in this case. But I'm a coach, I'm an adult, and I've chosen to coach at Silver Spring rather than Laurel or some closer program.

Here's how it works. Kids get dropped off and picked up from practice in cars by their parents. For games, kids and parents are responsible for getting themselves to the appropriate field by the appropriate times. There's no busses, and rarely is there transit, which would be an extremely cumbersome option anyway. Carpooling happens, but it is a given that each team will bring about 15-20 cars per game. There are 11 teams in the Silver Spring Saints program. Multiply that by two for games and you have upwards of 330 cars facilitating each gameday in the Capital Beltway League.

I can say with confidence that a good portion of the boys on this football league (and those that can get the most out of youth sports) are not among the area's wealthiest residents, and it is quite a sacrifice to schlep a kid to football games at Montgomery Village, Clinton, and Northeast DC through the course of a season. Last year I had a boy from a single parent household with no car. He spent two and a half hours taking the bus from Rockville to Four Corners every practice and another two and a half to take the bus back when I couldn't give him a ride (which was quite out of my way!) I loved the kid's dedication. He easily could have played for Maplewood or a team closer to Rockville. And, despite putting 7 hours into football three nights a school week, he was an honors student. But in any case, families relying on public transportation to facilitate these kinds of activities are at a major disadvantage, and in my experience, often don't consider it worth the trouble.

Am I chiding the CBL? No. I played for this team as a kid. I swam in the Montgomery County Swim League, I played CYO baseball and basketball, and I was on a Boy Scouts street hockey team. Never once did I ride a team bus or take the Metro to any game I ever played. That just doesn't work for this sort of activity. But few would argue that we ought to get rid of youth sports because it assumes reliance on automobiles.

How do we reconcile this problem?

Certainly, over time new urbanism and expanded transit might do a big part in easing this problem. League programs promoting carpooling could reduce the problem as well. But how do we solve it. Is there a solution? Or will youth sports remain the privilege of those fortunate enough to own cars and afford the gas? With college and even a lot of major high school events, transit and team buses are far more wide spread. As the automobile becomes less and less feasible for the not-so-well-off, what will be done to maintain the Little Leagues, the Pop Warners, the Pee-Wee Conferences? Though soccer moms may carry the negative stigma of association with urban sprawl, the youth sports associated with them are perhaps the best side effect of suburbanism, and we really ought to find a feasible way to make them work without heavy reliance on the personal automobile.


I came across an interesting website about plans to refurbish the urban core of Iqaluit, Nunavut. Iqaluit, formerly known as Frobisher Bay, is the capital of the Arctic Canadian territory and is located just outside the Arctic Circle. Given the harsh climate, geographic isolation, and limited resources, it offers a very unique example of making the best of what is there when it comes to urban planning.

New Hampshire Avenue might be getting a makeover. Just Up The Pike reports on possible boulevardization of the thoroughfare between the DC line and University Boulevard. It's about time that area got a little more attention. Greater Greater Washington also posts on the topic.

That's all for now. Hopefully I'll be up again soon.

1 comment:

Squalish said...

It ain't easy to eliminate parking as you increase recreational space - but there are partial solutions in maximizing the use of existing fields through multiuse sharing & scheduling, and parks like this which could be routed into light rail lines (or hell, we could use the off-duty school buses as shuttles). It would be nice if the 'public space' requirements for large mixed-use buildings, which currently basically mandate pocket parks on every property, could be merged together to form just a few 'village greens' to enable urban sports.

In the long run, you're going to see most of them rerouted to the edge of the 'burbs, but even so, there is significant room to increase carless access if that is so desired.