Tuesday, January 25, 2011

School Board budget hearing

Last night nearly 70 people testified before the Fairfax County School Board on the 2012 School Budget. This was our first time testifying before the School Board. We asked them to provide better support for the Safe Routes to School Program. Here's our testimony:
School board budget testimony
January 24, 2011

Bruce Wright
Chairman, Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you tonight. I'm here to ask for your support for encouraging more kids to walk and bike to school through the Safe Routes to School program. Back in 1969, 42 percent of students walked or biked to school. Now that figure is less than 16 percent. More than a quarter of morning traffic is school-related. Getting more children to safely walk and bike to school will benefit our children, our community, and our budget.

That's the goal of VDOT's Safe Routes to School program. Several Fairfax County parent groups are trying to prepare SRTS applications and they need better support. Since the program began in Virginia, there's been over $13 million in non-matching funds available to Virginia schools to encourage kids to walk and bike and to build sidewalks, bike facilities, and other infrastructure to make their trips safer. So far, Fairfax has received only $10,000 of that $13 million.

Meanwhile we're spending millions of dollars on kiss & ride facilities that require our highly-trained school administrators and teaching staff to spend time directing traffic every morning and afternoon. The impact of these kiss & ride facilities extends beyond school properties; the traffic adds to congestion, interferes with school bus service, and creates safety and environmental problems. Sometimes the most dangerous place to walk and bike is in front of a school.

For those students whose parents use the kiss & ride facilities, we’re really paying twice for them to get to school: We pay for the kiss & ride facility and we pay for their empty seat on the school bus, or for kids living nearby, we pay for improving their walking routes. We also pay the unintended costs of congestion, air pollution, more impervious surfaces, and dangerous conditions around the school.

Safe Routes to School funds are a way to start bringing those costs down and bringing some balance back to our community. We can start slowly at a few schools, but I think we need to start now, and we need your support to make it happen.

Thank you.

VDOT Safe Routes to School program
Walk to school stats
Virginia SRTS funding, 2005-2009

Gina Arlotto of WABA/Greater Washington DC Area Region SRTS Partnership and a group of SRTS proponents, including reps from FABB, Trails for Youth, and Vienna, will give a presentation to the Board of Supervisors Transportation Committee on February 1. We'll be asking for their support as well.

See the Safe Routes to School in Fairfax Facebook page.

Update: We did ride to the hearing, from Reston to Luther Jackson Middle School on Gallows Rd. Had we wanted to use just trails, as Supervisor Herrity suggested, it wouldn't have been possible. About half of the trip was on the W&OD Trail, but in order to get to the trail and to ride from the trail to the school, we used on-road routes. Most of the on-road sections were fine and needed no special bike accommodations. The trail along Lee Hwy extends for a few feet and then disappears. There is no trail along Gallows Rd. Riding on those roads isn't pleasant; some sort of on-road bike facility is needed unless the county commits to a complete, well-maintained, properly designed off-road system we're always going to need some kind of on-road facility for most people to be able to get around by bike. The trip took about 45 minutes by bike.

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