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Safe Routes to School Update: SNG Pushes for Systemic Change

 

As students returned to school this month, parents have had a lot on their minds regarding their kids’ health and safety—including the benefits of being outdoors. 

In that vein, we’re thinking about how Seattle can make it safer, easier, and more comfortable for more kids to choose to walk, roll, or bike to get to school. Here’s a roundup of back-to-school news, featuring the critical advocacy work that’s garnered recent progress in Safe Routes to School funding, policies, and infrastructure, and actions you can take now to help SNG make even greater gains. 

Individual School Improvements: School Streets

As school communities work to find solutions to keep kids, teachers, and staff safe, creating outdoor spaces is more important than ever.

At the request of individual schools, the street in front of the building is closed to thru-traffic, including parent drop-offs, and open for people walking, rolling, and biking to school. School Streets reduce traffic and chaos during pick-up and drop-off times, and encourage families to walk or bike to school or park a few blocks away and walk.

The school streets introduced last spring were wildly successful, and received incredible community support. Thanks to positive feedback, the school streets program will continue this fall. All but one school chose to extend their temporary school street, and many more have applied for new safe outdoor space for students!

  • Want a School Street at your school? Contact your school principal for support, and find more information and the application form here.
  • Have a School Street at your school? Share a photo or story about the school street at your local school to let us know how it’s working! @SNGreenways #SchoolStreets

These measures are all instrumental in getting kids safely to and from school. But it can take a lot of individual energy and attention to start and maintain programs, and heavy reliance on volunteer parent energy leaves some schools without any programs at all. What Seattle really needs is a system-wide approach that prioritizes and normalizes kids walking and biking to school through everything from the structure of support from the school district to the design of the schools.

As Seattle Neighborhood Greenways advocates for improvements at individual schools, we’re continuing to pursue systemic change that will make a difference for generations to come.

Systemic Change: Hire a Safe Routes to School Coordinator

In 2019, residents like you helped us successfully advocate for funding for a new full-time employee at the Seattle Public School District to help kids walk and bike to school safely. Unfortunately, despite having secured funding, this position has yet to be advertised and filled. 

58% of students live within their school’s designated “walk zone” and are not served by school bus routes, and currently walking and biking school buses, when offered, are predominantly run by parent volunteers, and do not exist at all schools. Reliance on volunteers and lack of central management results in enormous inequities. 

At schools with dangerous road conditions, many parents who have the means to do so make the decision to drive their kids to school every day. The increase in vehicle traffic around the school leaves those kids who do not have the option, disproportionately low-income kids and people of color, in even more dangerous conditions. Nationwide African-American children are twice as likely to be killed while walking and Latino children are 40% more likely than white children. 

A full-time staff member paying attention to the thousands of kids who walk to school, or helping them to do so safely would be a dramatic improvement. 

 

Systemic Change: Build schools with bike parking

Great news! At the request of the School Traffic Safety Committee and advocates, the Seattle School Board just stood up for schools to be built with adequate bike parking included!

Earlier this year, the school board committed to being carbon-free by 2040, including transportation. The transport of students to and from school, everything from a yellow bus to a parent driving their kids, is by far the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for schools. To reduce transportation emissions, the school district must enable and encourage walking and biking as a prioritized method of getting to school for both students and staff.

In 2018, Seattle City Council adopted a major update to the City’s codes that established new requirements for bicycle parking in new buildings. Schools will now provide three long-term spaces (secured access and weather protection) and one short-term space (racks in publicly available locations) for each classroom. This equates roughly to safe bike parking for a little more than 10% of students. But schools being rebuilt have not been meeting these code requirements, cutting the required parking by as much as 50% at Kimball, Northgate, and Viewlands Elementary Schools. In addition, a shortage of bicycle parking at the recently renovated Lincoln High School means students are parking bikes in classrooms.

These buildings will be in use by Seattle students for the next 100 years, and the decreased amount of bike parking provided will limit bike ridership at these schools far beyond 2040. Building infrastructure that meets our current city goals should be a bare minimum.

This August, the Seattle School Board saw this necessity and called for schools to meet 100% of the code requirements. Advocates are continuing to push, asking for a plan for increasing bicycle parking at existing schools and to update codes to reduce costly red tape.

Henry English Day on the first day of school—riding his bike is his favorite way to get there, rain or shine.

Five Ways YOU Can Help:

  1. Share a photo or story about the school street or other safe infrastructure at your local school to let us know how it’s working! @SNGreenways #SchoolStreets
  2. Request a School Street at your school: Contact your school principal for support, and find more information and the application form here.
  3. Join a list of other interested parents and community members to receive updates on Safe Routes to School.
  4. Start or join a walking school bus or bike train to help your students get safely to and from school in groups. Find out more here.
  5. Help spread the word about job openings! Seattle Public Schools is hiring crossing guards to help make school intersections safer. Check out this KIRO 7 news segment or read this flyer to find out more, or contact Yvonne Carpenter, [email protected] or (206) 252-0907.