Thursday, February 11, 2010

Greater Washington Safe Routes to School Network

Gina Carlotta, a WABA employee, is the new organizer for the Greater Washington Safe Routes to School Network Project.
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has selected the Metro DC region, including Northern Virginia, to participate in the 2010 and 2011 phase of the National Regional project. Only two other regions in the country were selected for this effort. The Greater Washington region will be joined by Atlanta and Los Angeles to participate in this project, which is being funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Regional Policy Project will focus on the inclusion of Safe Routes to School and related policy issues, such as Complete Streets and the programming of other transportation funds, in the regional transportation plan and related policy efforts led by the regional governments.
This is a great opportunity for getting Fairfax more involved in Safe Routes to School activities. Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay wants to get more kids walking and biking to school and he hopes to have several more schools involved in Safe Routes to School next year. There should be schools from all supervisor districts involved in this great program.

If you're interested in being involved in Safe Routes to School activities in Fairfax, the first telephone conference call for the Greater Washington Network is scheduled for Tuesday, February 16 at 1:30 p.m. Contact Gina for more information.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Let's Move

We applaud First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to reduce childhood obesity announced yesterday, Let's Move. The name says it all, it's time for kids to get moving again. Walking and biking to school are the easiest ways for kids to get daily exercise and develop habits they can use throughout their lives. In order to do so safely, they need safe routes to school and they need to be taught bicycle safety skills at an early age.

Physical Activity is one of four areas of emphasis in the Let's Move campaign:
To increase physical activity, today's children need safe routes to walk and ride to school, parks, playgrounds and community centers where they can play and be active after school, and sports, dance or fitness programs that are exciting and challenging to keep them engaged.

Let's move to increase opportunities for kids to be physically active, both in and out of school and create new opportunities for families to be moving together.
The first activity listed under "Ensuring Kids Get the 60 Minutes of Active Play Each Day" is "Plan a Kids Walk to School event." Now is the time for Fairfax to make a concerted effort to support the Virginia Safe Routes to School program and to apply for some of the $13,000,000 available for getting more kids walking and biking to school.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Safe Routes to School Report

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership recently released the report Safe Routes to School: Putting Traffic Safety First; How Safe Routes to School Initiatives Protect Children Walking and Bicycling. As Fairfax County works toward making the county safer for kids to walk and bike to school, they can learn from the report which has many examples of how the SRTS program has improved safety.

When some people ask why should the community spend money on bike facilities when so few people current use bikes for transportation, it's important to remember that "In more recent years, bicycle sales have passed new automobile sales in the United States by nearly 1.7 million annually, and more than 70 percent of all children age five to 14 ride a bicycle." Most kids own bikes but rarely use them for a number of reasons. Bicycle education is almost non-existent in the schools. Bike routes to many schools are not safe, especially for untrained, young bike riders.

The Safe Routes to School program addresses these issues and many others with the five E's; Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Engineering, and Evaluation. The new report contains profiles of five communities where the SRTS program has made walking and biking conditions safer for kids.

With help from the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, bike crashes in that state have been reduced: "An analysis comparing bicycle crash rates for the eight years before the Bicycle Safety Education Program was implemented (1992 to 1999) with the first eight years the program has been offered (2000-2007) reveals a 51 percent drop in bicycle crashes for children aged 10-14."

It's time for Fairfax County to make better use of the Safe Routes to School program. To date they've received less than 1% of Virginia SRTS funds, money that could be used for education, new facilities, traffic calming, and other measures.


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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Walking and biking to school

Today the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County School Board met to discuss walking and biking to school. As we reported earlier, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) has discussed this issue at recent Board meetings and is looking for ways to encourage more kids to walk and bike to school, in part to help reduce costs of busing kids.

Supervisor McKay noted that the county was not taking advantage of grant opportunities such as CDC health grants or the Safe Routes to School Program to educate the public and to help build infrastructure. There was a consensus that the School Board and the BOS need to work together to change the culture of driving kids to school who could easily walk.

Supervisor McKay noted that all schools should have bike racks. Dean Tistadt of Facilities & Transportation Services (I think that's who it was; there were no introductions) said that any principal who wanted a bike rack could "get one instantly." He also said that while poor infrastructure and lack of facilities was a problem, the main problem was that parents don't want their kids walking and biking because of perceived safety concerns. We think that attitude is changing as we hear from more and more parents who want their kids to be able to safely walk and bike to school.

It was agreed that providing Kiss & Ride areas was not the best use of school resources; facilitating parents driving kids to school makes walking and biking less safe, and contributes to air pollution and congestion around schools. As Mr. Tistadt said "This is lunacy. What we should be doing is putting up barriers for those who drive kids to school."

The group agreed to 1. Find examples of successful programs for getting more kids to walk and bike to school, and use those as examples for the rest of the county and 2. Determine where there are gaps in the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and provide funds to fill in those gaps.

Supervisor McKay will lead this effort. FABB will work his office to do what we can to help. One thing we can do is point to the Vienna Safe Routes to School Challenge as a successful example of parents leading the way for the rest of the county.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fairfax finally discussing walking and biking to school

The Safe Routes to School program has been in place since 2005. During that time, over $13 million has been allocated to Virginia for the program, of which about $7 million has been designated for projects. Fairfax County has requested, and received, $17,000, less than 1%. Fairfax is the largest school district in the state, 12th largest in the country, and many kids don't walk to school in part because it isn't safe. In a time of reduced budgets, the county is leaving a great deal of money on the table that could be used to improve biking and walking routes to school.

Bus transportation is provided to all kids living greater than a mile from an elementary school or 1.5 miles from a middle or high school. "Regardless of the distance, transportation will be provided if the transportation office determines that there is no walking route available that does not subject students to unusual hazards." As a result, many children living close to schools are provided bus transportation, some living across the street, because of a lack of safe routes to school.

It seems to have taken a budget crisis for the schools to consider the costs of having to bus so many kids to school. According to today's Post, Students may face an uphill climb: To help cut busing costs, Fairfax officials suggest getting more kids to walk to school:
"The schools do nothing to teach the benefits of walking and biking to school," McKay said. "Somehow we got away from that, because when I went through the schools, they had presentations by police and others talking about the importance of walking and biking to school."

McKay's suggestion that more kids walk also reflects the growing financial tensions between the School Board, which sets school policies and answers mostly to parents, and the Board of Supervisors, which controls school funding and answers mostly to taxpayers. McKay said that one of the biggest complaints he hears from constituents is about the number of half-full school buses they see.
The county needs to get serious about this issue. There are opportunities to obtain funding through the CDC grant program Communities Putting Prevention to Work which encourages communities to fight childhood obesity by implementing Safe Routes to School and other measures to help them develop active lifestyles. The SRTS program needs the support of the county Board of Supervisors and School Board.


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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Vienna Safe Routes to School challenge a success

The Safe Routes to School challenge in Vienna appears to have been a great success. At the four participating elementary schools there were 2823 trips taken on foot or bike; Wolftrap - 864, Louise Archer - 561, Vienna - 622, and Marshall Road - 776. Of those trips, 254 were by bike (Wolftrap - 107, Louise Archer - 46, Vienna - 101, and Marshall Road - 0).

Instead of sitting an a motor vehicle that generates greenhouse gases and burns fossil fuels, these kids are getting exercise and learning that there are other ways to get to around. I'll bet that had fun too. Congratulations to the kids and parents at these schools. Let's hope that Fairfax County supports their efforts to make their community more walkable and bikeable.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Vienna parents organize Safe Routes to School challenge

Several parents in Vienna are helping to organize Safe Routes to School programs in their schools. Louise Archer Elementary School has held Safe Routes events for the past several years, lead by the efforts of John Sweeney. They received a grant for SRTS plan development and implementation in 2007, to our knowledge, the only time a Fairfax County school has received such funding.

This year several other Vienna schools will participate in walk/bike events:
Louise Archer Elementary, Marshall Road Elementary, Vienna Elementary, and Wolftrap Elementary schools will be participating in the 2009 Walk and Bike to School Challenge (scheduled for May 11 through May 15). In the future, we hope to expand this event to include all Vienna elementary schools.

During the week of the Challenge, we encourage all students (and their parents) to walk or bike to school. In addition to the obvious benefits of walking and biking – improved health and reduced traffic congestion – parents and children often get a chance to socialize with friends and neighbors.

Safe Routes to School is an international movement to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to school. Safe Routes to School provides a variety of important benefits to kids and their communities, including improved health, reduced traffic congestion, better air quality, and enhanced neighborhood safety. Finally, this movement is part of the solution for the alarming nationwide trend toward child obesity and inactivity.

The Vienna-wide effort was spearheaded by Jeff Anderson (Wolftrap), Amy Byrne (Marshall Road), Tara MacCall (Vienna Elementary), and John Sweeney (Louise Archer).
I recently passed by Louise Archer ES when school was letting out and it's impressive to see so many kids walking and biking to school. Shouldn't all Fairfax kids be able to safely walk and bike to school?

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Walk and Bike to School Day

Walk to School Day is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 8. Kids are encouraged to walk and bike to school on that day and many schools around the country sponsor events. Louise Archer Elementary School in Vienna is holding an event that day as well as a Safe Routes To School Walk and Bike to School Challenge from October 8-17. During the challenge students participating in walking or biking to school will receive small prizes as encouragement.

One wonders why in a county of over 1 million people there is only one school participating in this program, despite Federal funds available through the Safe Routes to School program administered by VDOT. If you have children in Fairfax County schools, why not ask the school administration why they are not participating in the program and why more kids don't walk and bike to school.

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