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Seattle’s Plan to Take Biking and Walking to School to the Next Level

Source: Seattle
Walking and biking to school is on the rise in Seattle, but it could go much higher. Source: Image via Seattle Bike Blog
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Last week, communities around the country celebrated Walk to School Day to encourage kids to get to school the old-fashioned and healthy way.

In Seattle, the event was more than a one-off to raise public awareness -- it was also the kickoff for a five-year action plan to increase walking and biking to school. While active transportation to Seattle schools has grown recently, reports Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog, there's a lot of room for improvement: 83 percent of students live close enough to school to walk, and nearly all live close enough to bike.

Fucoloro says Seattle's walk and bike to school initiative looks like one of the more sophisticated action plans in the nation:

The plan has been a long time in the making and includes extensive research into best practices for cities, parents, students, schools and police to all work together to increase the number of students getting to class under their own power safely. It outlines how to improve safety today, but also outlines how to invest in infrastructure and youth education to increase safety for a generation.

For example, every Seattle Public Schools 3rd, 4th and 5th Grade class will receive in-class biking and walking education starting next school year thanks to a partnership between the city, SPS and Cascade Bicycle Club. This is a huge increase in youth biking and walking education, which currently only reaches 32 of 71 elementary schools.

The city will also invest in safe streets changes like better crosswalks, speed humps and sidewalks. And funding to power these changes will come from a wide variety of sources including more of the city’s brilliant speed cameras and, of course, from Move Seattle if voters approve Seattle’s Prop 1 this month.

Another hallmark of the plan, says Fucoloro, is the grassroots involvement of parents:

But one of the biggest impediments to more kids walking or biking to school is parental fear of traffic danger. It’s a terrible spiral where parents are scared to let their kids walk or bike, so they drive them, adding more traffic to school streets and making other parents scared to let their kids walk or bike, and on and on…

“This plan, along with our Vision Zero effort, provides the tools to take safety on our streets to unprecedented levels,” wrote SDOT Director Scott Kubly.

But the plan is far from a top-down effort. Engaged parents really led the way on biking and walking efforts at Seattle schools in recent years, organizing successful student encouragement projects and lobbying the district and city for improvements. Many of these parents -- including Clint Loper, who has contributed to Seattle Bike Blog several times in past years on school transportation issues -- helped craft the plan as part of the School Road Safety Task Force.

The grassroots powering the plan make it one of the best collections of ideas you will find in any road safety plan. It’s an amazing resource for other parents, students or educators wanting to improve transportation at their schools, and it’s an amazing resource for other cities to catch up with Seattle’s successes so far.

Elsewhere on Network today: Walkable West Palm Beach backs up the case for nine-foot travel lanes with an impressive investigation of safety data. Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space explains the controversy around San Diego's recently approved long-range transportation and growth plan. And Bike Portland says the city's policies demonstrate a general acceptance for a shortage of housing and a complete intolerance for anything of the kind when it comes to parking spots.

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