City of Las Vegas Envisions a ‘Google Maps’ for Student Walkers

Screenshot of the current Safe Routes to School 2019-2020 website.

The City of Las Vegas has released step one of its goal to create a walking app for students and parents, on the first day of the 2019-2020 school year. 

Gena Kendall, a city traffic engineer for the Public Works Transportation Engineering Division of the City of Las Vegas, discussed the goal of the program with School Transportation News. The first step of the launch is a website that presents the location of schools and the safest walking/bicycling routes around that school.

The website includes bike lanes, 25 and 15 mph zones, as well as crossings and stoplight locations. However, Kendall said the website will eventually become more interactive.

For instance, parents would be able to type in their home address and the name of the school, and the program would create a line that shows the safest walking route to school. Such challenges as a closed sidewalk and construction hazards are planned to be included.

“We have lots of plans. It is very rough right now. We are really excited about it, but it’s not complete,” Kendall said. “I like to think of it as a ‘Waze’ or ‘Google maps’ for walkers.”

Kendall said the program’s goal would be creating an app that would be linked to the Clark County School District website, where parents could log in and all their information would be private. The City of Las Vegas currently works in partnership with the school district in developing a safe atmosphere for walking or biking to school through the Nevada Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School Program.

Clark County School District (CCSD), the fifth-largest school district in the nation, adopted the Safe Routes to School Program in 2007, Safe Routes for School Coordinator Traci Taasdahl said. Currently, CCSD has 196 schools that are K-8 in its program.

The district has 362 schools total, 86 of which are within the City of Las Vegas jurisdiction. The other jurisdictions are unincorporated Clark County, the City of Henderson and the City of North Las Vegas.

In all, 125,000 students who attend the districts 362 schools are bus eligible (living 2 miles or more from the school). The remaining 200,000 students either walk or bike to school, take transit, or have their parents or someone else transport them.

The school district functions as more of an advocate for the City of Las Vegas and the other jurisdictions in terms of safety. Taasdahl said she encourages the parents to go to the local jurisdiction websites to look at the suggested walking routes.

Kendall said using the information from Clark County School District on whether a student is bus eligible or not, the app would provide a safe route to walk to either the school bus stop or the school itself. The app would also include information on where the crossing guards are located and where the crosswalk is.

“And using that information that they have, we want to give all parents a map. We want them to be able to pull it up on a map and it will show them where they pick up the bus. It would show you how to walk to the bus stop, or how you need to get to school,” Kendall said. “And if the bus stop moved for some reason, it would say ‘hey, the bus is now going to pick up [students] on the other side,’ or something to that effect.”

Currently, Kendall said the city is in the process of mapping all of its public work assets, including all public owned sidewalks, crosswalks and signs. And while the city is mapping this, officials are also addressing what infrastructure is outstanding. As they are going through the streets, they list what sidewalks need repairs, or what rural areas need sidewalks if they have not had them before.

“We have all of this technology. We are mapping all of our construction work, [plus] the construction projects that we have coming up or are currently in progress,” Kendall said. “We map this stuff, so why not provide it to the public, and make it something useful for them too. It’s all there, all the pieces are there. Now we just have to get it and put it together.”

Kendall added that for the future, the app would be updated if a sidewalk was under construction and provide students with an alternative walking route to school. The routing will also consider how much traffic is in that particular area and the speed limits in that area. It will help the city officials decide what they are going to install to make that route safer, whether that be a head-activated flasher or a streetlamp.

“We just want to give the parents as much information as we can and notify them,” Kendall said. “We have so much construction going on in our area and it’s a pain for people. So, if I can give them a heads up, we are going to close this crosswalk and we are detouring people here and give them that extra 15 minutes to walk to school. That might be a good thing.”

Kendall said the app is envisioned to be based on an alert system. As soon as the city knows about it and it needs to be fixed, an alert to the app would be a click away. It would be giving parents a warning. Within the next business day, a detour would be routed for an alternative walking route to school.

Kendall noted that the program is all in-house, so it will be more time-consuming. But Kendall said it is a priority and it is something that will be completed.

Kendall said one fear is that the City of Las Vegas is potentially liable if something happens. She stressed that this is only a suggested route and not the only way to walk. The intent of this program is to give the parents as much information as possible and notify them of all the construction and hazardous walking areas that develop.

Editor’s Note: Read more on upcoming and enhanced technology in the September Issue of STN.