Safe Routes to School is about walking and bicycling to school and in communities. The Safe Routes to School momentum spreads to players at all levels. There are only three communities with designated Safe Routes to School coordinators in the Greater Washington, DC region. And even when a Safe Routes to School coordinator does exist, the request for assistance and schools wanting to participate is greater than just one person. The actions and decisions of parents, schools and local governments are crucial in sustaining safe walking and bicycling to school and in the community.
Recently, Montgomery County, Maryland released results from their Pedestrian Safety Initiative created by county executive, Isiah Leggett. The initiative was created in response to high pedestrian fatalities. It is great to hear about walking and bicycling projects but the projects are even better when there are numbers attached. Not only are Montgomery County residents safer, but now numbers confirm that recognizing an issue, deciding priorities and targeting resources does work.
There are two examples of prioritizing projects. High Incidence Areas (HIA) are areas with a density of collisions. A safety audit helps to identify needed improvements and resources are targeted to the HIAs. The second is schools. All schools in the County have been audited as part of the Safe Routes to School program. Schools with the highest need for walking and bicycling infrastructure are prioritized. The Safe Routes to School program has focused engineering improvements at 129 schools. Education and encouragement activities supported the engineering improvements and contribute to the successes below. Recent successes include:
- Pedestrian collisions around schools with high numbers of collisions were reduced from 1.45 to .4 incidences per year.
- Pedestrian collisions in High Incidence Areas have decreased from 10 percent to 7 percent (2008-2011).
- The county had a decrease in pedestrian collisions per 100,000 residents from 46.7 to 40.5 between 2005 and 2011.
- Speeds were decreased up to 11 miles per hour due to traffic calming such as bump-outs, pedestrian refuge islands and enhanced signage.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, parents are taking the lead to increase the number of kids walking and bicycling to school and it is working! What started as initiatives at individual schools has grown to the Bike/Walk Challenge with five elementary schools participating. On May 18th, Bike to Work Day and the last day of Bike/Walk Challenge week, more than 1,400 kids walked or bicycled to school.
These numbers mean less morning traffic congestion and kids arriving to school ready to learn. But Jeff Anderson, parent and leader of Wolfie’s Bike Train keeps it all in perspective:
“But despite all this great turnout, what makes me most happy are the kids - as they ride their bikes with the police and local racers while smiling ear-to-ear. Or walking along with their friends and parents being all chatty whilst laughing and 'smelling the flowers'. And hearing of other schools, where kids are bugging their parents to "let me walk" vs ride the bus or be driven is incredible. And every time I turn a corner on the Bike Train's route and see kids as far as the eye can see - I almost wish I was one of them.”
I agree. This is why we do what we do.
For more information, please see the Greater Washington region Safe Routes to School website.