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Using Child-friendly Maps to Promote Active Transportation

I Introduction

Every day children in Peterborough, a mid-sized city of about 75,000 residents, make the trip to and from school. Some of them walk or ride their bicycles. Others are driven in their family car and many of them ride a school bus. Active and Safe Routes to School - Peterborough (ASRTSP) is a partnership between public health, school transportation services, municipal transportation planning, environmental educators and local school boards. Our goal is to promote active and efficient transportation for a safer, healthier and greener community. Recently, we have been engaged in Students On The Move, an initiative to create child-friendly maps that assist families with planning their trip to school. This project is generously supported by Safe Kids Canada and FedEx.

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II Identifying pedestrian infrastructure needs

In 2006, the City of Peterborough began developing a Sidewalk Strategic Plan in consultation with local walking advocates including the ASRTSP partners. The purpose of this plan is to assist with prioritizing spending on sidewalks by ranking missing segments and ramps based on a consistent set of criteria that includes proximity to a school walking route. Through the consultation process, it emerged that students were being bussed within school walkout zones because of a lack of sidewalks. At two schools in the southeast end of the city, 285 students (45% of students eligible for bussing) who lived within the walkout distance where qualified for a school bus due to the absence of a sidewalk on collector roads adjacent to the schools.  

Providing busing to these students places a financial burden upon local school board budgets. It is also an indication that the design of the neighbourhood is failing to provide children with opportunities for incidental physical activity such as walking or cycling to school.

In 2006, the sidewalk was built. The changes to school bus eligibility were scheduled for September 2007. ASRTSP recognized that there was an opportunity to assist families with choosing safer, greener, and healthier travel options.

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III Gaining an understanding of family travel choices

The purpose of the Students On The Move project was to gain a better understanding of how students at the two schools travel to and from school, to learn more about what factors influenced families' transportation choices, and to develop child-friendly maps of the community to assist with planning the trip to school. A research project was carried out that included a Student Travel Survey and a Family Survey.

From the Student Travel Survey which looked at travel to two schools, we learned that among the students who lived less than 1 km from school 22% of the students at one school and 63% of the students at the other school ride the school bus. We also learned that among the students who lived less than 1 km from school 31% at one school and 11% at the other school are driven.

From the Family Survey, we learned that weather, traffic, time and fear of bullies/abduction were the top factors affecting their choice of transportation on the trip to school. To the question, "what would make it easier for your child(ren) to walk or bike to school?" many parents answered that sidewalks were a major concern. A parent suggested it would be easier for their child to walk to school "if there were sidewalks on all the streets." Another respondent noted, "During the past summer, new sidewalks were completed - this makes it much safer for our child." Several families indicated that the presence of crossing guards would make it easier for them to let their children walk to school. A preference for the school bus was also evident. One parent wrote "I think the bus is the best way. The bus guarantees they arrive at school safely and home again safely. I'd rather be certain of my child's safety rather than save money with bus cut backs and such."

Through neighbourhood walkabouts, consultation with municipal land information services and working with a graphic designer, ASRTSP developed a child-friendly map that features information such as safe drop-off zones, places to park and walk, local playgrounds, the location of adult crossing guards and posted speed limits.

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IV Challenges and opportunities

The progress towards changing the school bus policy and improving the walkability of the local neighbourhoods was affected by some unexpected challenges.

Walkways and crossing guards
The changes to the school bus eligibility were to be supported by the improvement of a walkway along the edge of a cemetery. Parents were concerned about their children's personal safety along the walkway and wanted an adult crossing guard located at one end of it. The City determined that this location did not meet its criteria for an adult crossing guard. This dispute resulted in the bus changes and the walkway improvements being delayed for one year.

Sidewalk debate
The families also wanted a sidewalk to be built along an adjoining road. Since this sidewalk was also determined to be a high priority by the Sidewalk Strategic Plan, the City budgeted for its construction. Other local residents, however, raised concerns about the construction of the sidewalk. The City delayed construction of the sidewalk until public consultation could be completed. This delayed the busing changes and the walkway improvements again indefinitely.

New policies
The ongoing costs of busing the students and the conflict created by efforts to add needed sidewalks are a clear illustration of the importance of ensuring that infrastructure that supports active transportation is included when new developments are being designed and constructed. In March 2008, Peterborough City Council adopted an implementation schedule for the Sidewalk Strategic Plan and a new Provision of Sidewalk Policy that clarifies that sidewalks should be provided on both sides of the street in all developments, including redevelopments and new developments.

Distribution of maps
The child-friendly maps are included in a full-colour glossy paper brochure called Route to School Planner. A unique map was created for each school. On International Walk to School Day (October 8), 2008, copies of the maps were distributed to every family at each school. Included with the map was a flyer encouraging families to use the map and provide feedback on the map through an online survey.

The responses to the online survey suggest that the Planner was well received and provided helpful information to some families. The respondents indicated a preference for receiving the Planner electronically and before that start of the school year. The Student Travel Survey was repeated in November 2008. Between November 2006 and November 2008, the percentage of students using AT increased from 28% to 33% at one school and from 12% to 21% at the other school. ASRTSP plans to create maps for two more schools in 2009.

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V Call to action

The members of the ASRTSP learned about our community's readiness for changes to travel options. The school communities were not ready for major changes to the level of school bus service. More public consultation and time to plan for change may have helped them to prepare. There were, however, major improvements to neighbourhood walkability which resulted in more students choosing to walk to school. The Student Travel Survey was repeated in November 2008. Between November 2006 and November 2008, the percentage of students walking or cycling to school increased from 28% to 33% at one school and from 12% to 21% at the other school. The analysis suggests that many of these students were bus riders.