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Planning Students Make Recommendations to Get Williamsville Students to Walk to School

By Patricia Donovan

Release Date December 18, 2009

Kid Corridor zones, student safety education and detailed maps of safe walking and bicycling routes are among the recommendations made by University at Buffalo graduate students in the Department of Urban and Regional planning to encourage students in the Williamsville Central School District (WCSD) to get out of cars and off buses and ride and walk to school instead.

The recommendations were presented Dec. 17 in the Amherst Town Hall Council Chambers as part of the Kid Corridors plan devised by the UB students over the past several months at the behest of the town and the school district.

The plan discusses the reasons for encouraging active commuting, cites existing barriers to walking and makes a series of policy, program and physical recommendations directed to the town and district to help get the students to walk to school.

They include:

• The creation of a Kid Corridors Subcommittee of the Town Youth Board charged with implementing the plan and overseeing ongoing development.

• The designation of "Kid Corridors zones" extending one mile around all the WCSD elementary and middle schools. The town should direct to those zones policy changes and physical improvements that facilitate walking (like pedestrian friendly physical infrastructure, sidewalk repair and enhanced enforcement of traffic laws).

• A recommendation that the WCSD educate students in safely navigating on foot or bicycles within the Kid Corridors zones.

• A recommendation that the WCSD send families of their students living within one mile of a district elementary or middle school a detailed map of the shortest and most convenient walking/bicycling route to their school. Active commuting maps for each school in the WCSD, which are provided in the Kid Corridors plan, should be made available for easy access.

The report notes that at this time, only 7.8 percent of the 7,017 K-8 students in the WCSD walk or bike to school, although 48.8 percent live within a one-mile radius of their schools.

Key barriers to active commuting among these students, say the UB planners, include traffic conditions that hinder walking and bicycling, among them busy roads and intersections, high traffic volume and speeds, and dangerous drivers; parents' concerns about abduction or exploitation of their children; and lack of physical infrastructure maintenance.

Other barriers are the fact that the students live in a non-walking culture, that the design of the built environment is not friendly to pedestrians and that students may have to deal with the physical strain of carrying heavy school backpacks.

"Regular physical activity improves academic achievement as well as the physical and emotional health of children," the report says.

The planners note that the percent of children walking and bicycling to school in the U.S. has declined from 42 percent in 1969 to 15 percent in 2001.

One response to this trend is the federal Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS), established in 2005 to make walking and bicycling to school safer and more appealing for children in kindergarten through eighth grade, including those with disabilities.

In 2008, the Town of Amherst, in collaboration with the Williamsville Central School District, the largest among four school districts in the Town of Amherst, received an SRTS grant.

The Town of Amherst charged the UB Department of Urban and Regional Planning with developing materials to encourage and educate children to walk and bicycle to school. The graduate students who prepared the Kid Corridors plan were under the supervision of Samina Raja, PhD, associate professor of urban and regional planning, in partial fulfillment of this charge.

As part of the Kid Corridors planning process, UB planners held outreach sessions with children and adults in the school district, analyzed the built environment there using Geographic Information Systems, conducted a detailed audit of two case study sites in the district (Country Parkway and Heim Elementary and Middle schools), analyzed data from a survey of WCSD students and parents and reviewed applicable legal regulations.

The Kid Corridors plan is also informed by a survey of literature and best practices on active commuting trends and policies nationwide.

"A key opportunity is that WCSD parents recognize the importance of daily exercise in their children's lives," says the report.

"The imagination and enthusiasm of youth studying in the Williamsville Central School District are opportunities for creative promotion of active commuting," it continues.

The planners say, "Children often see opportunities where parents see barriers. For example, children view piles of snow and leaves as an opportunity for play on their routes to school while parents may view them as obstructions. The presence of supportive organizations and Amherst's low crime levels also support active commuting."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.