An Initiative A Day 6.4: Collaborate with school districts and local communities to further develop safe routes to school, encouraging walking and biking, and site new schools in walkable locations.

March 4, 2014 in Vibrant NEO 2040, Vision

On February 25, the NEOSCC Board voted unanimously to approve and endorse the Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Action Products.  We are sharing an “Initiative A Day” so you can gain a better understanding of the vision and framework!  If you would like to read all of the Initiatives, you can download them here: Recommendation and Initiatives.  You can access a pdf of the entire vision chapter here.  The vision chapter contains all 41 initiatives, development strategies, indicators, and matrices that identify how the recommendations, initiatives and indicators all relate.

Show your support for Vibrant NEO 2040 by adding your name to our Champions of Vibrant NEO 2040 list here!

INITIATIVE 6.4: COLLABORATE WITH SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND LOCAL COMMUNITIES TO FURTHER DEVELOP SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL, ENCOURAGING WALKING AND BIKING, AND SITE NEW SCHOOLS IN WALKABLE LOCATIONS.

WHAT THIS MEANS. This initiative takes advantage of potential federal funding for transportation enhancement projects by developing school-specific plans to provide safe walking and biking access. It also takes advantage of greater independence that MAP-21 transportation legislation has given to MPOs in influencing how local governments may use transportation funds within regions.

WHY THIS IS HELPFUL. Children and adolescents walking and biking to school are useful barometers of success in many planning-related objectives: neighborhoods are safe and sufficiently convenient to schools, streets are designed well enough that parents will allow children to walk or bike, and schools are an integral part of communities to the degree that they are navigable and easy to find. This initiative can also bring regional knowledge and resources to encourage and enable school-specific planning for better walking and bicycling access.

Walking and biking access to schools also offer an opportunity for school districts to realize a savings in transportation costs. In many suburban school districts around the United States, transportation—especially busing— is one of the largest single costs that districts incur. This is due mostly to the expansive distances that local school districts cover and, in many cases, the inability of local roads and streets to accommodate the needs of children walking or riding bicycles on them. The nationwide recession of 20072012 marked a significant decline in property tax revenue for local governments around the nation and thus a decrease in funding for public school districts. This greatly strained school budgets and cast new attention on the funding obligations related to transporting students. Planning for and implementing transportation system enhancements that make walking and bicycling safe and desirable options for school access can allow school districts to consolidate or reduce busing services without requiring students to be driven to school by family members.

Taking on an initiative such as this is also useful in that it establishes a format for planning for other populations with special mobility needs, such as senior citizens and persons with disabilities. Although these are separate groups and do not always need access to single-location facilities such as schools, the planning process that this initiative will launch can be used as a model for how to engage local governments and community institutions in identifying and planning for the needs of other special communities in Northeast Ohio.

GETTING IT DONE. Regional agencies, especially MPOs, are also well positioned to facilitate this dialogue in that they can provide training and technical assistance to local governments and school districts, while allowing them to take on the primary responsibility of setting their own school specific plans for improvements. These agencies often provide necessary funding for the Safe Routes to Schools projects to be implemented, but they can also help the organizations seeking to use these funds to define improvements that constitute the most effective way of doing so.

TOOL: Ohio’s Safe Routes to School Program: The goal of this program is to assist communities in developing and implementing projects and programs that encourage and enable children in grades k-8, including those with disabilities to walk or bike to school safely. Successful Safe Routes to School programs include an integrated approach that addresses all 5 E’s of the program: Engineering, Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, and Evaluation.

 

Lead Metropolitan Planning Organizations; School Districts; Municipalities, Townships
Target Community Strategic investment areas, asset risk areas, cost risk areas
Implementation Complexity Moderate

 

These recommendations, initiatives, and products, are not one-size-fits all and some aspects of the initiatives won’t be applicable everywhere in the 12-county region. The Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Products are intended inspire and guide decision-making at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Council of Government, and local levels to ensure that land use, transportation, and environmental considerations are simultaneously addressed by their processes. Ultimately, the implementation of Vibrant NEO 2040 is up to Northeast Ohio’s communities and residents. But regardless of the applicability of each initiative to any particular part of the region, the goal for each community within the Vision is the same: stability, prosperity, and a high quality of life for all of its residents.

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