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Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, October 02, 2009

New York State school district bans bicycling and thoughts on how to change the system...

Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery, 9/20/2009
Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery comic strip, 9/20/2009.

See "School district could backpedal on policy: Saratoga Springs board to consider modifying ban on riding bikes to schools" from the Albany Times-Union.

I wonder about this, and how we are going about it. DC is a very unusual planning environment compared to almost everywhere else in the country. Most states have various planning requirements for counties and subjurisdictions and particular agencies such as the schools, parks and recreation, land use planning generally, etc.

I mentioned that I am working as a county bicycle and pedestrian planner for the next year in Maryland.

So my tack for the school district, and note that next Wednesday is International Walk to School Day, but the county school system doesn't have a standard program at the level of the school district, even though bus service isn't provided to students living within one mile of a school. Still, I am finding out that some schools have active walk to school programs. (Don't know about bicycling yet.)

-- International Walk to School Day in the USA

And it happens that Maryland has an active Safe Routes to School program. Check out their excellent handbook.

While I am not volunteering to improve all of the State of Maryland, I think what needs to happen is a change in state planning requirements for local school districts, tasking the Office of Transportation in all school districts--the unit that deals with school buses and getting students to and from school--with true "transportation" responsibilities, considering mobility questions more widely, for students and staff (the county school system has 17,000 employees and more than 160 sites), and having to deal with walking and bicycling specifically, as well as reducing overall trips by staff.

So, I will be working to interact with the Office of Transportation in the county school system (as well as the staff wellness program and the K-12 Office of Health Education) to work to get walking and biking to school upwards on the planning agenda.

And in the meantime I am trying to get permission to go on one school campus next Wednesday where they will be holding walk to school activities.

Anyway, by focusing on state school planning requirements and broadening how school districts have to plan for mobility is the way to change the paradigm.

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I have written before about the cost of providing bus services for school children, especially in a period of escalating energy costs and the difficulty of finding and retaining qualified drivers. Many school districts, such as Montgomery County in Maryland (see "Bus for some, sidewalk for others on first day of school" from the Gazette) are increasing the walking distance requirements (in MoCo it's now within 2 miles of a school that bus services will not be provided) to cut costs.

Plus there is the issue of high school students not wanting to ride the school bus. See "A Driver's Ed Lesson on the Way to School" from the New York Times.

As well as general issues of congestion being created through parents driving children to school. See the NPR story, "Program Encourages Kids to Bike, Walk to School" which reports that fewer than 15% of children walk or bike to school and that 20% of morning rush-hour congestion is from parents driving kids to school.

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