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.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

International Walk to School Day is tomorrow -- My preferred agenda...

Walking School bus demonstration by students from the Gladys Noon Spellman Elementary School in Cheverly, Maryland, as part of a program on active at living at the Center for Total Health, Kaiser-Permanente.

The Arlington Commuter Page blog reminds us that tomorrow is International Walk and Bike to School Day.

My problem with the Safe Routes to School movement isn't that it's a bad thing, it's not, and there are many great resources such as the National Center for Safe Routes to School.

And I like the "focus" on ground up initiatives, getting citizens, especially parents, involved.

What bothers me is that there is a lot of wasted energy, because the most important change to make walking and biking to school more possible is mostly ignored.

Rather than dealing with the issue school by school, why not deal with it school district by school district?

The change is a systemic one, and that would be to require school districts to do balanced transportation planning--to include walking and biking to school, in addition to transportation by school buses within the responsibility of school district "transportation" departments.

If school districts were required to do and support balanced transportation, with a focus on promoting sustainable-active transportation wherever possible, parents would have a much easier time dealing with walk (and bike) to school issues.

Instead, the efforts now are mostly ad-hoc and chaotic by comparison to making that kind of systemic change.

The State of Washington does not require balanced transportation planning, but they do require that all elementary schools have safe routes to school maps, and they recommend that school districts have a traffic safety and transportation committee, with a broad-based membership not limited to school district employees.

They publish a great manual on what to do: School Walk and Bike Routes: A Guide for Planning and Improving Walk and Bike to School Options for Students.

School districts like the one in Boulder, Colorado and Minneapolis have system-wide balanced transportation planning, and safe routes to school plans and programming (Minneapolis Safe Routes to School Plan).

And the City of Takoma Park, Maryland cares so much about the issue, that they pay for a Safe Routes to School coordinator to work with the County School System as well as private schools located in the city (there are many Adventist schools in Takoma Park) on improving walk to school efforts and programming. They publish a newsletter, give awards, etc., it's quite impressive.

And Feet First in Seattle and Starkville in Motion in Mississippi are model walking promotion organizations, with active school-focused programs.

When I worked in Baltimore County, I had the honor of spending a few hours at Stoneleigh Elementary School, which is a national best practice example of SRTS ("Trying To Put Pupils, Parents Back On Feet" from the Baltimore Sun)--the principal does what I think of as school-site transportation demand management. They have it down, to a parent valet volunteer who opens car doors of parents dropping off their children, to having specific doors assigned to particular grades for entry into the school.

Walking to school, Dumbarton Street, Rodgers Forge Elementary School
And that greater area (including Rodgers Forge Elementary, Dumbarton Middle School, and Towson High School, not to mention Towson University) has the opportunity to do an integrated walk to school program.

In the UK, schools are required to develop travel plans: see the manual Developing a School Travel Plan and webpage from Sustrans.

Plus there is the issue of induced traffic. (In fact this is why I no longer am a proponent of charter schools disconnected from neighborhoods as they generate significant amounts of traffic.)

According to a guide on walk to school day from Rutgers, :

Walking to school was a very common experience for the previous generation of Americans when about 70% of children walked to school - today it is estimated that only about 10% of children do so.

In a single generation short trips that we used to walk (or bike) without thought or question have become automobile trips - in fact, two thirds of children living within only one mile or less of their classrooms arrive by motor vehicle. Some studies attribute up to 27% of morning traffic and congestion to school-related trips.
Children going to school at Stoneleigh Elementary School, Towson
Cars lined up to drop kids off at school.

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