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Dateline Nashville: Students Spotted Walking to School — Outside!

Today in what’s wrong with everything: The Nashville news media is apparently aghast that students at a local high school had to take a walk.

According to WKRN, on the way back from a field trip around 100 students from the Nashville School of the Arts were dropped off about eight-tenths of a mile from school. The students, the station reports, were forced to endure 15 minutes of walking after bus drivers left them at a McDonald’s to attend to other routes.

“As the buses left,” says anchor Bob Mueller, barely concealing his incredulity, “the only way to get those students back to school was to walk.”

WKRN’s Nick Caloway did the same walk himself to double-check the school district’s half-mile estimate of the journey, which school officials said was within the official “walk zone.” Caloway does a pretty good job detailing road conditions that might make what should be a routine activity dangerous. He makes a point of saying the road was “busy” and that one section of sidewalk was closed, though these details are seemingly offered only to strengthen the argument that the students should not have been walking.

How sad that an activity that was commonplace for generations is now completely foreign to much of the U.S. Given the tone of the coverage you’d think these kids flew back from their field trip by flapping their arms.

As for the students, one described the experience as “not fun.”

“It was sunny, it was windy,” she said.

(Hat tip to Lenore Skenazy at Free Range Kids.)

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In Queens, Parents Push for Safer Streets Near Schools

After 25-year-old Martha Tibillin-Guamug was killed crossing the street in Jackson Heights last week, the 110th Precinct went on the offensive, writing 200 summonses in 72 hours, including dozens for failure to yield to pedestrians. At a traffic safety town hall on Sunday, residents applauded the effort, then asked the police and DOT to do more.

Martha Tibillin-Guamug, 25, was killed by a bus driver in Jackson Heights last week. Photo: NY Post

Martha Tibillin-Guamug, 25, was killed by a bus driver in Jackson Heights last week. Photo: NY Post

The 110th already has a leg up on most other precincts when it comes to traffic safety — it issued 442 failure-to-yield and nearly 3,000 speeding tickets last year — but at the town hall hosted by Make Queens Safer, Congressman Joseph Crowley, and Assembly Member Francisco Moya, residents said it would take more than a ticket blitz to clamp down on dangerous driving.

Dozens of Queens schools have been designated as priority locations in DOT’s Safe Routes to Schools program, for example, but most have not received street redesigns as a result. From 2004 to 2009, DOT implemented street redesigns in areas surrounding 30 schools citywide. Researchers say these types of traffic calming measures could prevent 210 child injuries annually if the city applies them to all 1,471 elementary and middle schools.

I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights has already been identified as a Safe Routes to Schools priority location. Victoria Medelius, president of the school’s parent-teacher association, said traffic safety efforts shouldn’t happen only after someone dies. ”We have to do more than just issue a summons,” she told Streetsblog.

Medelius said one of her son’s classmates was walking to school with his mother last year when a driver hit and injured him. “It shouldn’t be that way. It wasn’t like that for me growing up,” said Medelius, who grew up in Jackson Heights. “Drivers should be more responsible.”

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Five Ways Colleges Are Coaxing Students Out of Their Cars

104 colleges and universities around the United States provide free or reduced-price transit service to students. Map: U.S. PIRG

The University of Wisconsin-Madison provides bike valet at its football games. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill supports free transit for everyone in the region. The University of California, Irvine launched a bike-share system in 2009, long before any major city in California had done so.

American colleges and universities are leaders in reducing driving and promoting sustainable transportation. It allows colleges to make good on their commitments to protecting the environment. It makes life easier for students and staff. And, perhaps most critically, it’s saving schools big money on parking. Stanford University estimates its efforts to reduce solo car commuting have saved the school from sinking $100 million into the construction and maintenance of parking facilities.

Here are some of the smart ways universities have been able to reduce solo car travel, according to a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. PIRG is recommending cities hurry up and follow their lead.

1. Discounted or free transit passes

Among the most common and effective strategies colleges employ to reduce driving to campus is providing free or reduced transit fares. PIRG reports 104 universities around the country offer this perk, often called “U-Pass,” to students and/or staff. Universities typically fund the program with fees collected from students or with revenue from parking permit sales.

After the University of Missouri at Kansas City adopted a U-Pass program in 2011, transit use by students climbed 9 percent. Now other universities in the Kansas City region are looking to replicate that success, PIRG reports.

Chapel Hill took it one step further and made transit free for everyone. As a result, transit use by students more than doubled between 1997 and 2011, from 21 to 53 percent.

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The Suburb Where Everybody Can Walk to School

Lakewood, Ohio, a city of 51,000, makes due with no school buses, thanks to thoughtful planning. Image: Lakewood City School District

In Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, thoughtful planning means kids can get to school in a healthy way and the city can save money. Photo: Lakewood City School District

Lakewood, Ohio, population 51,000, doesn’t have any school buses. It never has.

Because of the way its schools were designed and sited, this inner-ring Cleveland suburb doesn’t need buses — every child in the district lives less than two miles from their classroom, and most are within one mile.

Lakewood calls itself a “walking school district.” It’s one of just a small handful in the state of Ohio. ”Our community likes the walking,” said Lakewood City School District spokesperson Christine Gordillo. “That’s kind of one of our brands.”

The school system also runs a small transportation program for students with special needs — about 100 students use it, out of 5,800. The rest of the students are on their own, whether they walk, bike, or get a ride (Lakewood doesn’t track how students travel). To transport students to sporting events, the district contracts with another school system.

Gordilla estimates the policy saves the district about $1 million a year, and that allows it to devote more resources to the classroom.

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Report: More Kids Are Walking to School

SInce 2007-08, driving rates have mirrored the changes in busing, but it's been steady growth for walking. From Safe Routes to School National Center.

SInce 2007-08, driving rates have mirrored the changes in busing, while walking has grown steadily. From Safe Routes to School National Center.

The long-term decline of walking and biking to school has been linked to the childhood obesity epidemic, a big share of morning rush hour traffic, and even kids’ lack of attention in class. In 1969, 41 percent of children in grades K–8 lived within one mile of school, and of those kids, 89 percent usually walked or biked. By 2009, 31 percent lived within a mile of school — and only 35 percent of them walked or biked.

It’s too soon to say that downward spiral is over. But there are hopeful signs.

A new report released by the National Center for Safe Routes to School shows that more kids are walking. However, biking seems to be staying flat, and busing is down.

First, a disclaimer: The study is based on somewhat uneven data. The 2005 national transportation bill, which created the federal Safe Routes to School program and started disbursing money to states, also mandated the implementation of a data collection system. Compliance has been rising dramatically — 382 schools submitted information in 2007, while 8,119 did this year. So current data is more robust than past years, and you should take the year-over-year trend results with a grain of salt.

In addition, rural and low-income students are under-represented in the surveys, as are kids living far from school. In total, more than 525,000 parent surveys from 4,691 schools supplied information for the study.

That said, the National Center found that walking to and from school increased among respondents between 2007 and 2012. While 12.4 percent walked to school in the morning in 2007, 15.7 percent did in 2012. In the afternoon, 15.8 percent walked home in 2007, versus 19.7 percent last year.

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In Portland, Every Day Is Walk and Bike to School Day

In many areas of the country the statistics are bleak — only a small fraction of children bike or walk to school. But Portland has bucked the trend: The number of kids using their feet to get to school is up 25 percent since 2006!

Portland makes it happen through a unique blend of infrastructure, planning, and outreach. They have a growing network of low-traffic neighborhood greenways. By 2015, 80 percent of all Portland residents will be within a half mile of one. Communities also frequently schedule “bike trains” and “walking school buses” to encourage kids and their families to bike or walk to school. One of the more incredible parts of these programs: Fifth grade student volunteers trained by the Portland police help younger students cross the street to get to school in the morning. That’s right, NYC, no crossing guards on corner after corner.

Last month, Streetfilms got to bike to school along with the family of new Portland Bureau of Transportation Director Leah Treat. We also got to walk with Kristen and Dan Kaufman (of PDXK-TV) and their kids. Although the United States has a long way to go to make walking and biking to school the norm again, get motivated — because if Portland can do it, your city can too.

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WNYC: Most City Streets Are Currently Eligible for 20 MPH Speed Limit

WNYC has put together a map showing that the majority of streets in New York City are close to a school — meaning that, according to state law, the speed limit on those streets can be lowered to 20 miles per hour without Albany’s approval:

NYC DOT told the City Council transportation committee last month that state law permits the city to set speeds at 15 to 24 miles per hour only if other physical traffic-calming treatments are also implemented, but those treatments are not required if a street is within a quarter-mile of a school. The October 31 hearing was convened to gather testimony on Intro 535, which would set speed limits no higher than 20 miles per hour, down from the current citywide 30 mph limit, “on all streets fewer than sixty feet wide in areas zoned for residential purposes.”

The hearing was held in the wake of a number of traffic crashes that took the lives of children. City motorists killed at least five children age 12 and under in the months of August, September, and October, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

Council Member Brad Lander asked DOT for a map of streets that are currently eligible for 20 mph limits. In the meantime, WNYC did its own analysis. Kate Hinds reports that 55 percent of all NYC streets are within a quarter-mile of a school, including 75 percent of streets in Manhattan, 71 percent in Brooklyn, 64 percent in the Bronx, 48 percent in Queens, and 28 percent in Staten Island.

City Council transportation chair James Vacca told WNYC he would “push legislation in the council to limit speeds in those areas,” and said he wants to bring a bill to the full council before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio is on the record supporting Intro 535. De Blasio has pledged to dramatically reduce city traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and his “Vision Zero” plan specifically calls for traffic-calming measures near schools. A spokesperson told WNYC de Blasio is in favor of lower speed limits in general.

The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a group that represents the owners of 5,200 of the city’s 13,000 yellow cab medallions, and which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for de Blasio’s mayoral campaign, also endorsed Intro 535.

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DOT Now Accepting Applications for 2014 Bike to School Program

Photo: DOT

DOT launched the second annual Bike to School competition on Tuesday.

Five schools will be selected to receive a cycling “starter kit” with curriculum materials, bike racks, assistance identifying safer routes to school, and other support from DOT, Bike New York, and Recycle-a-Bicycle.

In addition, the non-profit Safe Streets Fund will give selected schools $500 toward implementing Bike to School programs.

“Even more wheels are turning in classrooms citywide as schools introduce a new curriculum about the benefits of biking and riding smart,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, in a press release. “With lesson plans and activities that get students thinking about streets and safety, we’re helping them discover biking is a great shortcut to a healthier, more active lifestyle.”

Applications for the 2014 Bike to School program, available on the DOT web site, will be accepted through December 13.

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Beat the Street: DOT and DOE Launch International Walk to School Contest

Janette Sadik-Khan and Dennis Walcott in Astoria. Photo: @NYC_DOT

DOT and the Department of Education today announced the “Beat the Street” contest, where NYC kids compete with their counterparts around the world to see who can rack up the most walking trips to and from school. From a DOT press release:

Since the competition started here on October 15th, more than 1,000 students from two Queens schools, IS 141-The Steinway School in Astoria and JHS 210-The Elizabeth Blackwell School in Ozone Park, have competed against students in Liverpool, England, with hundreds more in London, England and Shanghai, China joining the three-week long competition in November. Each participating New York City student can simply swipe a keycard at any “Beat Box” location installed by DOT at key points along major pedestrian routes to each of the two Queens schools.

Points are accumulated based on the number of swipes, and are tracked in real time on the competition web site. (I.S. 241 is crushing it at this writing.) Prizes will be awarded to each school and also to individual students. The winning school gets a thousand bucks from London-based Intelligent Health, and a matching contribution will go to UNICEF.

“Good habits can last a lifetime, and we’re teaching kids to put their best foot forward early by learning the importance that walking plays in a healthy lifestyle,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who appeared at the Astoria event with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott. “New York City is one of the world’s most walkable cities, so our students have a head start when it comes to learning healthy routines for life.”

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As Council Considers Requiring School Speed Humps, DOT Doubles Slow Zones

On the same day the City Council’s transportation committee held a hearing on a bill that would require DOT to install speed humps around every public school in New York City in two years, the agency announced that it had selected 15 neighborhoods from 74 applicants to its Slow Zone program. Slow Zones include signage, a 20 mph speed limit, and speed humps.

DOT opposed a bill yesterday mandating speed humps at all public schools, saying it doesn't have the resources to meet the two-year deadline. Photo: Ed Yourdon/Flickr

The announcement more than doubles the existing total of 14 Slow Zones, announced in smaller batches since the program launched in 2011, bringing 150 speed humps and more than 800 signs to approximately 65 miles of residential streets. DOT said that the 15 neighborhoods selected yesterday — one in Staten Island, five in Brooklyn, and three each in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens — will have Slow Zones rolled out over three years:

  • 2014: Alphabet City in Manhattan, Norwood in the Bronx, Clinton Hill/Bedford Stuyvesant and Brownsville in Brooklyn, and Jackson Heights, Queens
  • 2015: Sunnyside Gardens/Woodside and Sunnyside in Queens, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Parkchester in the Bronx and Manhattan’s West Village
  • 2016: Midland Beach in Staten Island, Brooklyn Heights and Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, Westchester Square in the Bronx and Hudson Heights in Manhattan

DOT says the applications were evaluated on criteria including crash history, community support, and proximity of schools and senior or daycare centers. The agency says it will reopen the application process in 2016.

At yesterday’s transportation committee hearing, some council members were happier about the announcement than others. ”This is a significant announcement,” Vacca said. ”My only question is, when did you intend to advise me?”

Kate Slevin, assistant commissioner for intergovernmental affairs at DOT, said the agency began contacting council members on Wednesday, including committee member Jimmy Van Bramer, but would be reaching out to the remaining council members that day.

“Not only am I chair of the committee, but Westchester Square is in my council district,” Vacca said. ”As chairman of the committee, I take exception to how this agency has worked with me for some time now.”

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