What has 120 legs, 60 smiles and makes four stops as it cruises up and down the sidewalks of Doran and Geneva streets? It is the R.D. White Elementary School “walking school bus,” the latest effort by staff and parents to promote pedestrian and traffic safety at the site.
Approximately 60 students – divided into four groups – were escorted Friday to White by adult volunteers who donned neon orange reflector vests and positioned themselves as front and rear bumpers. The participants assembled at four “stops,” each natural gathering points several blocks from the school.
The walking school bus was introduced this year as a monthly event after first used on an experimental basis in 2008. It is part of a larger effort — modeled on the national Safe Routes to School program — to promote safety and alternative modes of transportation at White and throughout the Glendale Unified School District.
“The whole push is to get traffic away from the school,” said parent volunteer Wendy Hunter. “The more people that walk, the less traffic there is around the school.”
White’s Safe Routes to School contingent — formed in the wake of a fatal traffic accident at Toll Middle School in October 2008 — has grown to 80 parents, Hunter said. In addition to the walking school bus, they also are responsible for supervising morning drop-off.
“I think it is probably our most visible volunteer effort at the school,” Hunter said. “We have changed our drop-off procedures to make them safer. We have also changed out pick-up procedures. Now you have to park and walk in to get your kids, rather than driving through and getting them.”
The school now surveys its families to assess transportation habits, said Principal Suzanne Risse. Currently, about 20% of the student body walks to school on any given day, up from 18% a year ago, she said.
“Our first effort really was just about getting the traffic in the area down,” Risse said. “Now we are moving to the next level, we are really trying to encourage kids walking. We have noticed a definite increase.”
The city of Glendale has also set in motion efforts to make it safer to walk to and from school. In 2009, the city applied for, and was awarded, a $898,560 Safe Routes to School grant to make traffic improvements at and around six different school sites. The work is expected to take place this summer.
The benefits of walking to school are numerous, volunteers said. Walking encourages an active life-style, builds community and diminishes the amount of car exhaust being released into the atmosphere
“We have a generation of kids who are obese and are at risk of diabetes,” said pedestrian and bicycle safety advocate Colin Bogart, who Friday helped supervise one of the walking buses. “We have a generation of kids who are not learning that they have legs and that they can walk and ride bikes.”
The walking school bus concept provides safety while also easing the burden of transporting kids to school each day, Bogart said.
“You can be certain that your child is going to be supervised as they walk to school; and if the parent volunteers take turns doing it, really it ends up being better the parents too,” Bogart said. “Instead of having to take the kids to schools in the morning, they only have to take their kids to school once a month.”