Cascade: Let’s build schools for biking and walking

Map of BEX projects (obviously, not all of these will address car drop-off, but some could)

Map of BEX projects (obviously, not all of these will address car drop-off, but some could)

Schools all across Seattle are experiencing a revolution. After decades trapped in the school drop-off conundrum (Cars dropping kids at school makes it more dangerous to walk of bike to school, so more parents drive their kids. Repeat.), Seattle students and parents are finally taking action to reverse this trend. And after years of work, it’s finally catching on, and walking and biking to school is spreading like wildfire.

This is, of course, a wonderful development for Seattle’s schools. But so many of the school buildings were constructed or rehabbed with car drop offs in mind, perhaps it’s time to give some serious thought to what a biking and walking friendly school campus actually looks like. Giant parking lot between the gym and the school? Lines of drop-off and pick-up cars streaming across the sidewalks and crosswalks nearby?

Perhaps architecture and smart planning can help future Seattle schools avoid the drop-off conundrum in part through safe design. This is the challenge Cascade Bicycle Club wrote about recently after a meeting about plans for new Seattle Public Schools funded by passage of the BEX levies.

From Cascade:

What may look like a great design to the architects and landscape designers — taking into account all of the site restrictions and neighborhood codes–, may still fall short when looked at through the lens of bike and pedestrian access. So after the architects had presented their ideas, community representatives and bike/ped experts were encouraged to provide their comments in the hopes of building schools that are safe and convenient for all modes of transportation.

The following bike/ped improvements are examples of the proposals that will be considered:

– One of the schools is constraint by space limitations and limited neighborhood park. A proposal suggests that a city park located just two blocks away could serve as a remote drop-off site for parents and/or buses if there’s a walking school bus in place to take the kids the remaining two blocks to school. This park could potentially also be used for outdoor school activities given the lack of an outdoor field on the small school building lot.

-In another school design, the architects had proposed a bus drop-off area on the paved playground due to the limited neighborhood parking spaces.  Instead, they are now exploring the option of moving the buses to a place where they won’t come in conflict with pedestrians and bicyclists. A  welcoming “community entrance archway” for walkers and bikers could be build where the bus entrance to the playground would have been.

This meeting is an example of what can be accomplished when we give opinions and options in the early stages of a planning process, before the plans are finalized. We are inspired by what these future schools can look like, and thank the architects for being receptive to our ideas.

It’s interesting that Seattle is discussing this issue at a time when the Dutch are struggling a bit to preserve their world-renown habits of extremely low drive-to-school rates. One Dutch idea that blows my mind: It’s actually illegal to drive your kid to school in the city of Groningen.

I’m not saying that Seattle should make driving to school illegal, but maybe we should start treating car drop offs as something undesirable instead of catering to the behavior.

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5 Responses to Cascade: Let’s build schools for biking and walking

  1. Morgan Wick says:

    I’m not sure I would go so far as to make things harder for the school buses…

  2. Al Dimond says:

    As issues of school consolidation and quality are important and contentious for reasons aside from commuting, and child-density isn’t especially high anywhere in greater Seattle, I don’t think car dropoffs are going away entirely; there will always be kids that attend schools outside of walking distance from where they live.

    I really, really like the idea of distributed drop-off sites, with a focus on walking routes between the sites and the school entrance. The big problem with school dropoffs is their extreme concentration, but most schools have reasonable dropoff sites within a few blocks that most people could use. For example, at BF Day you can drop kids along Aurora at 41st or Fremont Ave at 40th, even on the far sides of those streets because of the pedestrian facilities there. So instead of having everyone have to come south down Linden there are four different options with no dangerous arterial crossings that don’t send drop-off traffic down side streets. Linden drop-offs would then be much easier for people that really need them (I think accessing BF Day from Fremont Ave or the far side of Aurora requires climbing stairs).

  3. biliruben says:

    While SPS administration has recently begun paying lip-service to active transportation, they remain deeply conflicted and dysfunctional.

    An example is the reopening of Cedar Park Elementary. The SPS representative initially claimed that the surrounding community certainly did not have any interest in sidewalks near the school. Only after he was practically booed out of a community meeting, did they change their tune and allow budget for sidewalks around the school. Not beyond that, but at least it was a start.

    SPS seems driven, so to speak, by their perpetual budget crisis. They are marginally motivated to support walking and biking, because it improves their bus budget, for which they spend a lot of money. They are not interested in spending substantial money or staff time to achieve that goal, however. They prefer for someone else to do the work and spend the money.

    I hope they don’t completely screw up the new Jane Addams K-8 building, but I’m not optimistic. You have inspired me to see how I can get involved in the design there.

  4. Alex says:

    Here in Vancouver, several bike streets pass right by schools. Lineups of cars dropping off students present impediments and hazards to cyclists. You can either sort of wait in stop and go traffic for 5 minutes to get two blocks, or you can try to pass on the right (doors opening, or sometimes there isn’t even a lane on the right), or the left (also doors, cars pulling left, oncoming traffic.

    When I was going to school in Seattle, on days when my mom dropped me off, we both agreed that we would waste less time if she dropped me off a block away, than get in the jam in the road.

    Having alternate drop off points that make it easier for walkers, bikers, and transiters, AND reduces waiting in line for car drop offs (by being moved slightly off site) or to multiple drop off points around the school zone would be good for all involved.

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