Resources Operations Related Articles A One of a Kind Walking, Biking School Opens in Canada
A One of a Kind Walking, Biking School Opens in Canada PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ryan Gray   
Tuesday, 12 January 2010 16:05

SambusWith the dawn of the new year, a newly opened elementary school in Ontario is heralded as the nation's first school that requires nearly all of its students to get to and from school using their own two feet.

In an effort to battle rising child obesity rates, traffic congestion, environmental concerns and injuries from motor vehicle crashes, P.L. Robertson elementary school in Milton, Ontario, opened its doors last week as the first of its kind that forbids parents from driving their kids to school. According to Jennifer Jenkins, a registered nurse and the project manager for Halton Public School Board's Active and Safe Routes to School Program, about 98 percent of the school's 700 students bike, walk, skateboard or ride scooters to and from school. The $125,000 pilot program is funded for one year with school board funds generated from local taxpayer money.

Jenkins was loaned to the school board by the Halton public health department to implement the innovative program that has turned up eyebrows from British Columbia to Manitoba to other Ontario school boards to districts in the United States. In fact, in August she presented a case study at the second National Safe Routes to School conference held in Portland, Ore.

The program comes on the heels of a pilot run last year at eight other schools to encourage more physical activity for the students and to alleviate hundreds of parents converging on schools in their personal vehicles. Jenkins said a check at another school last year turned up about 150 parents dropping off their children at the same time, which resulted in snarled traffic. The school's principal said the normal number of cars at school in the mornng and afternoon is actually at least twice that number, alleviated that one day only by school construction and rain.

Jenkins said the pilot saw 100 percent student compliance during good weather at many of the participating schools. And even during the snowy or rainy winter, the program saw up to 90 percent of the students continue their pedestrian ways.

"Even kids who were bused decided to join in," she added. "When there are more kids [walking], more kids are apt to do it because they want to be with their friends."

P.L. Robertson, located about 20 miles southwest of Toronto, requires students who live 1.6 km from campus, or about 1 mile, to get to school on their own, often via the school's walking school bus or bike train. That equates to nearly all students except for a handful who are eligible for the yellow school bus because they live farther than 1.6 km or who attend a French immersion dual track school that is located outside of the school district's boundaries.

The program is run in collaboration with a local school transportation consortium that also administers school busing in the province and with local traffic engineers and law enforcement. Karen LaCroix, the general manager of Halton Student Transportation provided by contractor First Student, said approximately 16,000 students who attend the area's two English and French speaking public school boards and two Catholic English and French speaking school boards ride the school bus each day. The active safe routes and transportation programs also work together to develop the actual active safe routes taken to and from school by both walkers and bikers.

Jenkins added there are plans to expand it to 18 to 20 additional schools within the next year, but first she is concentrating on making the program a success at P.L. Robertson.

"If you start a certain lifestyle behavior earlier, the momentum will naturally bring [the safe routes program] to the high school level eventually," she said.

If the project at P.L. Robertson is a success, she added that the school board will need to decide how to evolve student active transportation programs. That could include sitting down with provincial government officials. Already, the local Catholic school board has signed on to participate.

Last Updated on Friday, 12 March 2010 16:42