Today, in order to find more funds for education, Governor Christine Gregoire proposed raising hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes to cover the costs of busing students to school.
Yet she failed to ask the key question: why do so many students ride the bus to school instead of walking or biking?
One big reason: often, it’s just not safe to walk or bike to school.
Many parents want their children to walk or bike to school, and kids themselves want to. But traffic is going too fast or there are no sidewalks or bike lanes or safe crossings, said Chuck Ayers, Executive Director of Cascade Bicycle Club. When we build roads wider to move cars faster, and we neglect to provide for safe walking and biking, students must be driven everywhere.
Through the Safe Routes to School program, the Washington State Department of Transportation provides grants to local cities and school districts for engineering such as sidewalks, bike lanes, crossing signals, educational materials, speed enforcement, education and encouragement. And these improvements work: according to WSDOT’s statistics, drivers drive more slowly and receive fewer traffic citations in school zones, students behave more safely when crossing streets, and the number of children who walk or bike to each school goes up an average of 20 percent.
But only about one-quarter of requests from local communities get funded.
We recognize schools need more funds for education, said Lisa Quinn, Executive Director of Feet First. Student transportation is more than just the yellow bus. We should ask why are we taxing ourselves instead of making is safer and easier for children to walk and bike to school, which would have other positive benefits. Additionally, without a simultaneous effort to educate and encourage families to walk and bike, it is equally likely that parents will replace their bus ride with a drive instead.
Feet First and Cascade Bicycle Club are calling on Governor-elect Jay Inslee and the state legislature to make our children safer and healthier, and save millions in school bus costs, by investing more in safe routes to school.
Don’t let our children get driven into a ditch, said Ayers. We can support their health and well-being, improve their readiness for learning, and save money for school districts by making it safe for students to walk or bike to school.