Seattle Public Schools Officially Get It: Pupil Transportation to Include Safe Routes to School!


Seattle Public Schools Officially Get It:  Pupil Transportation to Include Safe Routes to School!

With a unanimous vote of the Seattle School Board on February 1, 2012, the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) officially made Safe Routes to School a key part of their transportation strategy. The School Board voted to adopt new language into their Transportation Service Standards, integrating walking and biking into the pupil transportation plan.  Titled “Safe Routes to School / Biking & Walking Student Wellness Plan,” the new provision intends to:

1.       Continue employing adult crossing guards within the K-8 school boundaries;

2.       Conduct an annual mode choice survey in every K-8 school in the district; and

3.       Identify safe walking routes for Walking School Buses at every K-8 school beginning in the 2013-2014 school year.

This policy enhancement is a critical piece of the district’s shift to neighborhood schools. The progressive policy proposed by Seattle Public Schools Transportation Director Tom Bishop, seeks to make it easier for families to walk to their neighborhood schools following a district-wide consolidation and reduction of bus service.  “Nobody wants to see an increase in single-vehicle rides to neighborhood schools,” Bishop says, “but with parent concerns about pedestrian safety, we know it’s a risk.  By supporting walking school buses, the district is working to make it easier for more children to walk to school.” And the community will also reap the benefits of the school district’s efforts with a reduction of traffic. According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, 10 to 14 percent of morning traffic is attributable to children being driven to school.

Feet First’s Safe Routes to School Program Director, Jen Cole has been a part of this policy’s evolution over the last several years.  “When the Washington State Department of Transportation began funding Safe Routes to School in 2005,” she explains, “our pilot program was a novelty.  With each subsequent year of funding, more schools got involved and took their involvement to deeper and deeper levels.”  At the same time, grassroots interest in Safe Routes to School skyrocketed, and now more schools than ever are working to get children walking and biking to school.  Bryant Elementary parent Clint Loper and Highland Park Elementary parent Rachael Wright took time to testify at the School Board meeting about what walking and cycling means to their schools and how welcome support from the district would be. The time was ripe for the school district to match parents enthusiasm with a supportive policy.

Conditions are right for this policy to take root.  The the leadership of Tom Bishop and the hard work of the City of Seattle School Traffic Safety Committee (STSC), which is an interagency group that has been working to improve traffic safety for all Seattle schoolchildren since 1975.  Committee members include representatives from the School District, Police Department, Seattle Department of Transportation, and a citizen-at-large.  The monthly meetings also include members representing Feet First, Cascade Bicycle Club, and the King County Food and Fitness Initiative, and they find their meetings take them beyond four walls as they make regular site visits to schools with specific safety concerns. (Note: there is a vacancy in the seat reserved a representative of private schools.  Contact us if you would like to serve.) This committee will provide an institutional structure to help the new policy take root and be successful.

Feet First is currently researching the number of school districts across the state that include walking school buses in their transportation plans or explicitly connect active school transportation to student wellness, backing it up with official policies.  Please contact us and let us know about your school’s Safe Routes to School policies.