Safe Routes Scoop
Shrinking Budgets Bring Busing Blues

Because of the hurried sequence of events, courtesy busing to Van Derveer Elementary School was eliminated in June 2004 prior to conducting a walk-to-school assessment. RideWise worked through the summer of 2004 to assess the routes and get the community comfortable with the idea of walking to school. It did this through conducting education programs and holding events. By the beginning of the school year, kids were safely walking to Van Derveer Elementary School. Crane said that eliminating courtesy busing created initial hostility, but “it dissipated due to our efforts showing that we were serious about the program. The opposition to the program went away.”

 

Crane admits that three months to prepare can be too short of a timeframe, noting, “the more lead time you have, the better off you will be.” He recommends that communities perform a walkability assessment to identify any safety concerns a year or two before considering the elimination of busing so that there will be sufficient time to make infrastructure improvements. At least one year in advance, an action plan should be developed by principals, the board of education, the local police department, crossing guards and parents.

 

In Somerville, Crane believes the long-term emphasis is on education.

Education programs need to accompany physical improvements to the pedestrian environment. Children need to be taught proper pedestrian and bicycle safety skills. Continued outreach to parents is a necessity; routes can change yearly due to shifts in population and new parents need to be continuously educated. RideWise has been producing educational materials for parents because “parents are the essential building block” to developing an effective Safe Routes to School program, Crane said.

 

Crane recommends that any school interested in starting a SRTS program should talk to their local TMA. Crane said that “most TMAs can be a good asset for schools to start” and “generally don’t charge a lot for their services.”

 

Plan Ahead

If your community is anticipating the elimination of busing, the time to act is now. Some parents will view SRTS programs as a precursor to the elimination of busing and will resist your efforts. It must be made clear that SRTS programs are not anti-busing, they are pro-safety and stand on their own. It is important that school districts, working with local officials and parents, identify and implement pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements before eliminating busing. Communities can improve sidewalks and intersections, increase monitoring, and establish
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