Over 5,100 schools and hundred of thousands of students, parents and school officials participated yesterday in National Walk & Bike to School Day, an example of programs that are mostly run separately from school bus transportation.
All student transporters will tell you that children are safer on the school bus when going to and from school, and the claim is backed up by state and federal crash studies. But the school bus is not available to or feasible for all student populations.
Local walking school bus or biking programs, like those held Wednesday in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, are created for students who are often ineligible to ride the school bus, because they live too near their schools. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership says walking programs can also solve transportation issues. Those include: reduced or no bus service, dangerous traffic congestion at pick-up and drop-off times, student absences and tardiness.
At the same time, student transporters are also viewed as route safety experts in their areas. Michael LaRocco, who will become president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services at the end of this month, said his experience has been that student transporters are rarely involved in planning walking and biking routes. That’s despite their familiarity with local sidewalks, bike paths, crossing guard programs and bicycle education.
“Generally, the transportation departments don’t get involved, as the Safe Routes to School money usually comes from the administration building in the district or the local municipality,” he explained.
STN asked LaRocco if walking and biking programs or events should be reaching out to district transportation departments.
“Absolutely, that is probably the biggest piece missing in many of these programs—lack of collaboration with school transportation departments,” he said. “Those transportation departments are probably more aware of the issues of local traffic problems and issues and general infrastructure issues related to transportation, as they contend with that on a more intimate level, than any other entity in the local community.”
The local PTA organized walking and biking routes Wednesday for students of Frisco, Texas, elementary schools near Dallas. However, Frisco ISD spokeswoman Meghan Cone told School Transportation News that the district’s transportation department, and the administration and security staff, work closely with the cities that are served, to establish safe routes to school for pedestrian traffic during the national event and year-round.
“Students and parents utilize the same routes to walk or bike to school as they do on any other school day,” she said. “Speed limits in school zones, as well as the placement of crossing guards and signage, is determined by state law and local ordinance.”
Doug Becker, director of transportation for Frisco ISD, said the district hires and pays the crossing guards, while the city and police establish placement, training and safety protocols.
“We have a transportation staff member [who] hires guards and facilitates covering open spots. We work with the city by meeting with them monthly and discussing issues as they come up,” he said.
Becker added that he likes the idea of walk- and bike-to-school programs, since they are designed to promote active and healthy lifestyles for children.
“I totally support kids to walk and ride bikes to school, if parents would allow,” he added. “We do have thousands in the district [who] don’t qualify for busing, and it is the parent’s decision for those kids in how they safely get to school.”
Frisco ISD’s transportation department employs about 150 guards and works with four cities.
The district also hosts an upcoming Special Needs Roadeo for school bus drivers and aides that will be held in conjunction with the TSD Conference on March 16.
See images from Walk & Bike to School events at Frisco elementary schools.