Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The New Road to Happiness

The Road to Happiness is the title of a film made in 1924 by the Ford Motor Co. It was filmed in Fairfax County, called Clay County in the film "to avoid offending the local populace." The purpose of the film was to promote improved roads.

The New Road to Happiness is the title of a commentary by FABB's Fionnuala Quinn that appeared in the Connection newspapers in which she compares scenes filmed on West Ox Road with the situation today:
In an early scene, children walk along an unpaved West Ox Road to the original Navy schoolhouse, scraping their boots before entering. Later, the teacher encourages the students to enter the Good Roads essay contest. The Good Roads movement was sweeping the country at the time and the contest drew over a quarter of a million entries annually. One of the students wins and heads to Washington to be presented with a college scholarship by President Calvin Coolidge. The student goes on to study highway engineering, eventually returning home as the local County Engineer. Finally, we see children happily walking together on the newly paved road to the Navy schoolhouse. One pair of students drive a pony and cart to the school.

That one-room schoolhouse has long since been replaced with an eight-hundred student facility while West Ox Road is a four-lane divided highway. Today, many children living short distances from the school cannot easily walk there. Sidewalks are missing in many locations and vehicles speed by the school on three sides. While in the past getting to school had fostered great independence, now many children are not encouraged to walk or bike there. This change in children's behavior came about in large part because of how we designed and constructed the surrounding neighborhoods and streets.

Times have changed and we have realized some of what was lost in all those "improvements" that we built. Meanwhile, we can actually go back and restore some of the missing links through the VDOT Safe Routes to School Program. With SRTS funds, we can fix the non-continuous sidewalks, provide safety education and allow some more choices in how children can get to school. While we may not see many students arriving by pony and cart, it would be nice if a few more could safely walk and bike to their local elementary school.
While the film is not online, a short clip about the film is on YouTube.

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