by Darren Kessner
Just 40 years ago, half of all students in the United States walked or biked to school. Today, that figure has dropped below 15 percent, with adverse effects on traffic congestion and air quality near schools. At the same time, students get less exercise, with detrimental effects on their health and academic performance. Safe Routes To School programs aim to reverse this trend, by providing funds to local governments and school districts to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety near schools, as well as to start programs to encourage kids and parents to walk or bike to school.
When asked about the importance of Safe Routes programs, Gayle Haberman from the LA County Department of Public Health commented, “If families feel the streets are safe for biking and walking, they will leave their cars at home and let their kids walk and bike, reaping the immense health benefits of physical activity. This is especially true if streets feature safety improvements that slow traffic, which have been shown to reduce crashes and injuries.”
Safe Routes To School programs exist at both the state and federal level. The City of Culver City recently applied for, and was awarded, a grant from the Safe Routes program administered by the California Department of Transportation. The nearly half-million dollar grant will be used for bicycle and pedestrian improvements along common routes to Linwood E. Howe Elementary
School. Linwood Howe principal Amy Anderson noted: “The Safe Routes to School grant offers a wonderful opportunity for Linwood Howe and Culver City Unified School District to partner with the city in working toward improving the daily lives of our children. This effort exemplifies Lin Howe’s commitment to preparing students for a lifetime of wellness and environmental awareness.”
Safe Routes programs are also extremely beneficial to residents who live near schools. Last October, Linwood Howe’s Walk/Wheel to School Week resulted in an average of 125 fewer automobile trips each morning. As Gabe Garcia, a Traffic Engineering Manager for Culver City, emphasizes: “The Safe Routes to School program provides many benefits in an inclusive and collaborative process for the greater good of our community in keeping with the City’s recently adopted BPMP [Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan] to promote bicycling and walking in the community.”
In addition to new bike lanes and shared lane markings around Linwood Howe, 13 key intersections near the school have been designated for specific pedestrian improvements. The planned improvements include bulb-outs/curb extensions to shorten crossing distances, perpendicular curb ramps to replace dangerous corner curb ramps, and high-visibility crosswalks, with locations on Braddock Dr, Lucerne Av, Irving Pl, Van Buren Pl, and Higuera St. The Culver City Bicycle Coalition will be leading a tour of the planned improvements, with a special Family Ride on Saturday April 16, 10am at the Linwood Howe playground. Culver City will also be hosting a community meeting at the Linwood Howe cafeteria on Tuesday May 3, 6:30pm, where city officials will present more details about the planned improvements.
Culver City officials, residents, parents, and children have many reasons to be excited about the Safe Routes To School grant. As Linwood Howe parent Meghan Sahli-Wells summarizes: “The Safe Routes To School program is positive in every way: It helps activate kids bodies and minds, which is good for them. It reduces school traffic, which is good for the school neighborhood. It gets cars off of the road, which is good for air quality and the environment. It is the least expensive form of transportation, which is good for families’ budgets. And it’s a fun way of getting around, which is good for everybody! Since Linwood Howe has begun its SRTS program – even before the grant was awarded – I feel it has brought the school community together toward a healthy, productive and enjoyable goal.”