Sunday, April 10, 2011

Letter from Superintendent Dale on Safe Routes to School

In February FABB met with the FFX Co Board of Supervisors to ask for better support for parents who want their kids to walk and bike to school, primarily by supporting an area-wide Safe Routes to School grant application. The outcome of the meeting was summarized by Chairman Bulova:
Chairman Bulova said she would like to come out of the meeting with a decision on how to proceed. It was suggested that staff develop criteria for selecting schools and present to the Board, and that DOT and FCPS meet to develop some operating procedures to figure out how to facilitiate the grant process. At a later date the larger SRTS community, such as the police, Health Department, other health advocates, and others can become involved in the process. From the letter:
This resulted in a letter from County Executive Griffin to School Superintendent Dale:
I am requesting that a meeting be set up with your office in the next several weeks, so that we can discuss how best to staff a Fairfax County SRTS Program grant application process. I strongly recommend that for the Fairfax County SRTS Program to be successful, you and/or the School Board need to direct FCPS staff "from the top down" to make the SRTS Program a FCPS priority.
Superintendent Dale responded:
It is our intent to begin working with parent organizations to determine how we might begin to address the issue of parent decisions regarding Kiss and Ride in the hope that collaboratively we might begin to encourage parents to allow their children to walk or ride buses to schools. We will keep you informed of these efforts.

Finally, FCPS is in favor of formalizing the current ad-hoc process of the SRTS process. It is suggested that OSS, FCDOT, VDOT and the Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) form a review team for potential SRTS infrastructure projects. Currently, there is a draft SRTS infrastructure grant application (submitted March 25, 2011) for Terra Centre Elementary School that could be a pilot For such a process.
We plan to continue to work with all of the groups above to try to encourage kids to walk and bike to school and to educate them on how to safely interact with traffic.

The Dale letter contains some interesting facts about how kids get to school from a Kiss and Ride Survey. "The majority of designated walkers (60%) and a significant number of designated bus riders (39%) use Kiss and Ride." In other words, 39% of the seats on school buses that Fairfax Co. taxpayers are paying for are empty.

The county also funds construction of sidewalks, within 1 mile of elementary and 1.5 miles of high schools, built specifically to provide safe walking routes to school.

What are some reasons for not walking? Their backpacks are too heavy, they have too many items to carry, bad weather, and because students want to get more sleep. Reasons for not taking the bus include after school activities, sleeping more, and the bus comes too early. When parents were given a list of ways to address some of these problems, and asked if it would affect their driving behavior, 61.5% of parents said they would still drive kids to school.

On a related topic, the study completed in 2007 on the possibility of later high school start times, known as the SLEEP study, contains a great deal of school transportation information.



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