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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Speaking of schools #2: pupil transportation

The Henrico County Public Schools district (outside Richmond, VA) has been running ads in The Express for a director of pupil transportation. The job description posted mentions nothing about walking and biking to school as a task area and responsibility within the position. It's a pretty good job, paying $100,000+ year to manage pupil transportation for the 48,000 student system.

Do an advanced google search of the National Association of Pupil Transportation website and you will get zero hits of the term "safe routes to school." Although that is partly a function of how b adly the website is designed. The 2010 conference did have one session on the topic.

When I worked in Baltimore County on a walking and biking planning project last fiscal year, I realized after looking at the "safe routes to school" issue for only a couple of weeks that the major issue is that most states do not require school districts to do what we might call "balanced transportation planning" for pupil transportation.

Most regulations focus on transportation by bus.

It happens that Baltimore County has a national best practice example of a walk to school program at Stoneleigh Elementary School, and I spent a few hours there on International Walk to School Day in 2009 (and had further interactions with the involved parents who created the program and the principal).

I realized after that experience, and after learning that the State of Maryland Dept. of Transportation was doing a review of walk to school initiatives at the school district level, that the most fundamental issue was changing the requirements at the state level by requiring school districts to do balanced transportation planning, incorporating walking and biking into the planning regimen.

Obviously, by doing that, where practical and appropriate, more children would be walking and biking to school. Yet that idea wasn't even in the scope of work of the Maryland study (and final report)!!!!!!!!! (I pointed that out in Oct. or November 2009, but the study scope was never changed.)

Given that as much as 25% of local traffic in neighborhoods during school opening and closing hours is due to taking kinds to and from school by car, this is an important issue.

The State of Washington has some balanced transportation requirements for school districts, requiring that all elementary schools be provided with walk to school maps, providing money to school districts for transportation improvements that affect the walking and biking environment, and recommending that school districts have a school traffic safety committee to consider transportation issues more broadly.

The City of Minneapolis has a city-wide walk to school plan. And the Boulder Valley School District covering the City of Boulder in Colorado does balanced transportation planning, providing support to schools for walking and biking, through the school district's central administration structure--it's not left up to the schools on an ad-hoc and individual basis.

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