Safe Routes Need Nearby Schools

Robert PingIn 2008 and 2009 we managed a Safe Routes to School project at five lower income schools around the country, launching and growing Safe Routes to School programs in those five schools for two years. In suburban Atlanta our work was going really well – we established walking school buses, got bicycle and pedestrian safety courses taught in the school, ran promotional programs and got some traffic calming work done on the street in front of the school. Then the school district decided to consolidate and close this school…game over!

Now the students were to attend a school two miles away, crossing two major arterials. Either parents would now drive their kids, or the district would spend a lot of money busing kids and dealing with what was the only neighborhood ‘anchor’, their neighborhood elementary school. Perhaps we could have sponsored a “remote drop off” program or tried to get a traffic safety curriculum into the new school? But the bigger questions are: Would consolidation actually save money? Was this move the best thing for this neighborhood? Would the district and kids lives benefit overall in the long run? Those questions are hard to answer. However, if there had been a local group of people advocating for what we call the “community-centered school”, and making sure that the school district was looking at the big picture, and that the county and residents were more involved in the process and pushing local government agencies to work together, the outcome could have been quite different.

We call it school siting: making sure that schools are located in the neighborhoods where kids actually live, because it is hard to walk to school eight miles! School siting is a critical element to long term Safe Routes to School efforts and indeed the physical, social and economic health of the entire community.

There is now a growing body of policy models, case studies and recommendations on this topic, and I have included links to a few of the best and most recent below. We are building a library of resources on this and many other topics on our website, to be launched in May. If you are a Safe Routes to School champion, an agency staffer, or a parent or concerned citizen, learn about school siting, and consider this policy objective in your efforts!