By Karla Sclater, Feet First Development Committee Member
Brian Devereux is an advocate of walking to school, both as a parent, and in his position as Puyallup School District’s Director of Facilities and Planning. He understands, though, that “Walking to school is a complex issue. It has to be safe, timely, and parent, teachers and school administrators all have stakes in the process.”
He and Cathy McDaniel, the School District’s Director of Transportation, take a comprehensive approach to encouraging and facilitating walkable routes to school. This is important, because walking to school is more complex than it seems.
As Devereux points out, many factors interconnect on walkability. School districts are required by Washington State regulations to have suggested walk route plans for every elementary school where children walk to school. The plan must cover a one mile walking distance from the school and the suggested route to school. The map must be distributed to all elementary school students and their parents. School administrators also must consider safety issues such as sidewalks, and well-lighted pathways, and crosswalks intersect with families’ logistical challenges. All walking route plans must additionally consider traffic patterns, school safety patrols, and provide updates as conditions change.
Another piece to the puzzle is addressing cultural values that favor cars for safety, timeliness, and comfort. This can create traffic congestion problems, as parents choose to wait in a long line of cars to pick up children.
Devereux recognizes that families face many challenges to walking to school on a daily basis. He tries to walk with his boys at least once a week if he doesn’t have an early meeting. His twin boys attend an elementary that is a non-walking school. Their school is uphill and they must cross busy intersections, so often they ride the bus. But on the days he walks to school with them — even on rainy days — he sees the difference it makes. Walking to school “physically kick starts the brain,” he said. The kids are “engaged, ready to be at school,” with their minds and bodies ready to learn.
He has seen evidence of the benefits of walking throughout the district. In 2015, three schools participated in International Walk to School Day, which takes place the first Wednesday in October and is part of WALKTOBER. Feet First supported the project by providing event design and planning for the three schools, which increased the number of children and families walking to school throughout the month, highlighting the latent demand of simply walking to school together.
The Puyallup School District includes 21 elementary schools, seven junior highs, three senior high schools, and an alternative school, serving 22,250 students. As the district grows, managing traffic plans and walking routes are high priority. Devereux and McDaniel are committed to working with local jurisdictions and organizations to support more children walking and biking to school.
It’s not too late to get your school walking. Feet First and Cascade Bicycle Club are excited to offer funding to 25 school districts across the state to help you increase the number of children walking and biking to school. Find out more about the Walk & Roll mini-grant program.
Learn more about WALKTOBER and join our campaign to trek 25,000 miles — the distance around the earth.