The Move Seattle transportation levy puts a pretty strong emphasis on safety, but there’s one key piece that many safe streets advocates in the city think is far too low: Safe Routes to School.
You can tell the City Council what you think of Move Seattle (see our previous coverage here, here and here) and support investments in Safe Routes to School at a public hearing 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers at City Hall.
Anne Fote is a Seattle school nurse, and her school nurse association believes that investing in walking to school is vital not just to helping kids get their necessary daily exercise, but also to helping them learn. Walks to school can be learning experiences and opportunities to make friends. But most directly, it’s about their safety, as she told the City Council’s transportation levy committee:
A few Hamilton kids have been hit by drivers since I’ve been a nurse there. Two girls were hit by a Hamilton parent. It’s kind of a vicious circle. Parents wouldn’t be driving their kids to school if they felt the streets were safe for walking, and streets are less safe because so many parents are driving our 55,000 Seattle Public School children to school.
Safe Routes to School are also great because…
- Kids who get some exercise in the morning (like walking or biking to school) are better able to pay attention during class.
- Kids who get their required daily exercise are less likely to be obese or develop type II diabetes.
- Driving kids to school creates lots of traffic. National studies suggest that somewhere between 10 at 25 percent of rush hour traffic is due to school drop-off and pick-up.
- Our neighborhoods will also be safer for everyone else.
The ability for kids to walk or bike to school is especially vital for low-income working families who cannot afford a car or the time to take their kids to school. Low-income students are also more likely to live in areas with dangerous streets and (related) higher rates of childhoood obesity.
Experience biking to school also gives kids a chance to learn road safety skills, which is especially true when coupled with bike education during physical education classes and/or after school programs.
So what would it really take to, say, build true safe routes to every school in Seattle where half or more kids qualify for subsidized lunch (a common measure of income constraints)?
$40 million, says Cathy Tuttle of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. That’s a bit higher than the $7 million suggested by the mayor’s office, but not beyond reach. She recently outlined the case for further investment in Safe Routes to School on the SNG website:
With the help of transportation experts, we’ve calculated about $40 million can fill some of the biggest gaps at 28 elementary schools where half or more of the kids qualify for free lunch.
SDOT already invests a lot in Safe Routes to School. 20mph speed cameras next to a few schools bring in more than $5 million a year that we’ll need to keep investing in a backlog of hazardous road conditions in the Walk Zones of all 97 Seattle Public Schools.
Where’s the $40 million going to come from?
Well, there is $930 million in the proposed Levy. Most large engineering projects – big repaving, bus corridors, bridge repairs – need to leverage big state and federal money. We believe these mega-projects can leverage a little more.
Unfortunately the fine-grained careful investments that give this boy a safer walk home qualify for almost no outside matching monies. Small neighborhood-scale investments for our most vulnerable are what cities are expected to make, what transformative levies are intended address, and what compassionate voters approve. Unlike big paving and bridge projects, money for safety improvements for walking in our neighborhoods is never going to come from state or federal transportation packages (and if you believe it is, you haven’t been following the news lately).
It is truly up to us to decide to provide $40 million to Move Seattle for Our Kids.
The Move Seattle Levy is a once in a generation opportunity to change course and decide to invest in our most vulnerable and valuable. Let’s invest in our kids.
Please sign our petition to the Mayor & City Council if you believe we should Move Seattle for Our Kids.
If you want to listen to Fote and others say some smart stuff about Move Seattle, you can watch the Seattle Channel video below. The non-Alex Tsimerman testimony begins at the 9:30 mark:
If you keep watching that video, you can hear a presentation on equity in the Move Seattle levy. SDOT staff put together this interesting map showing how their planned investments match up with the “equity score” (a measure that combines low car ownership, resident age, disabilities and income). It’s promising, but shows need for some adjustments and focusing of safety dollars (you don’t want the red lines to be around areas with high equity score):
Great article Tom! I hope some people can make it tomorrow.
Anne’s testimony is really worth reading:
My name is Anne Fote. I am a registered nurse. I currently work at Hamilton International Middle School. Previous to that I was the nurse at Rainier Beach High School.
First of all, I am pleased to let you know that the Seattle School Nurses Association voted unanimously this Tuesday on a resolution supporting an increase for Safe Routes to School funding as part of the Move Seattle Levy. I was at the meeting where we voted on this resolution. The only question we debated was whether it was right to just recommend Safe Routes to School for elementary students. Our school nurses union decided that walking to school safely is equally important for middle school and high school students — and so that is what our resolution says.
I’ll give you a copy, but let me read a bit. We want to “increase in Safe Routes to School Funding over the nine year levy period from $7 million to $38 million, and support the focus of additional money first on the City’s poorest schools, where children who live within the ‘walk zones’ without school bus service often have the fewest transportation options.”
As a health professional, I think walking is a great way to start each day. I’ve also seen walking be a great way for children to make friends. I see children getting to know each other in a healthy way as they walk to my school in the morning.
Unfortunately the walk to school is very stressful when it could be a time for learning, getting exercise, and making friends.
While I was at Rainier Beach, I was called over to evaluate a little boy who had been in a hit and run collision. The boy picked himself up and continued walking to school. We took him in to be evaluated for concussion and internal injuries. This was a very young child, no more than 8, who was one of the many children who walked alone to South Shore Elementary in Rainier Beach.
Elementary school children walk up to a mile to school, middle school and high schoolers walk up 2 miles, often in the dark, across very busy streets and along roads without much in the way of sidewalks or lights.
A few Hamilton kids have been hit by drivers since I’ve been the nurse there. Two girls were hit by a Hamilton parent. It is kind of a vicious circle. Parents wouldn’t be driving their kids to school if they felt the streets were safer for walking. And the streets are less safe because so many parents are driving our 55,000 Seattle Public School students to school.
We need safer streets thoughout our school walk zones, for so many good reasons. I encourage you to find funding to support this basic need to get our children to school safely.
Anne Fote, RN BSN Member National Association of School Nurses, School Nurse Association of Washington, Seattle School Nurses Association, and Washington Education Association
Wait, can you explain that map at the end some more? I am pretty baffled by it. Areas in red are “areas of low investment”? Investment in… what? Sidewalks? But West Seattle has almost 100% sidewalk coverage, at least in that neighborhood south of Schmitz Park. Your text says the map shows their areas of “planned investment” but nothing in the legend mentions planned investment, it only seems to point out the areas with low investment. So all the non-red areas are the planned investment places?
Also am I right that “high equity” is roughly equivalent to “high poverty”? That is really not intuitive. Saying someplace has “more equity” than another just sounds… weird. Like either homeowners there owe less on their mortgages (they hold more equity in them) or it’s some sort of Orwellian claim that some people are more equal than others.
There are many great, no-brainer arguments for these investments.
The most salient one for me, and the one that may resonate most strongly with the general public, is that this investment does double-duty.
It gets kids active and ready to learn AND it has the potential to take tens of thousand of vehicles off our roads. It’s addition by subtraction. We get less congested auto-pipes without having to build any road infrastructure. Win win.
And speaking from experience, there is no more dangerous driver than one with a howling kid or three in the back of the mini-van, late for both school and for work, with 10 thousand errands on his or her mind. Get those time-bombs off the road.
And thinking more about this, large, well-thought-out investment is SRTS will also have the potential to slash the number of school-buses needed, saving the district money. SPS also insists that buses now stick exclusively to arterials, which is an absolute traffic disaster. You are putting roaming stop-lights weaving through are city during rush hour blocking the main high-throughput pipes everywhere. This is beyond stupidity.
Now with the majority of kids going to community-based schools, we should be coordinating and maximizing dollars spent to get our roads safe for walking and riding and have those minivans stay in the garage and the buses sitting idle in the lots, not spewing diesel into our kids lungs.
The school bus system already operates only outside a walk zone for each school. But that system is not functional or justifiable if safe routes don’t exist within that walk zone and if school drop-off/pick-up areas are hostile to those kids who need to walk or bike. We got ahead of ourselves by cutting back buses before investing properly in Safe Routes to School. Gotta catch up.
But there are easy rides outside the walk zone, with a parent’s guidance. SPS doesn’t allow kids to cross arterials and be included in the walkzone. But with a parent to guide a walking or riding school bus across arterials, a mile or 2 mile bike ride is easily do-able, and likely far quicker than a meandering bus.
For us, since we weren’t near their preferred arterial, it was a mile to the bus stop.
Good points overall, but SPS actually does quite often require kids to walk across busy arterials (Rainier, Aurora, you name it).
In better organized and wealther schools parents have been able to ensure their kids don’t have to walk across arterials: http://sps.ss8.sharpschool.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/Migration/How%20do%20I/GZ_ES_McDonald.pdf
But those in lower income schools are not as fortunate: http://sps.ss8.sharpschool.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/Migration/How%20do%20I/AA_ES_Dunlap.pdf
I think investing is safe walking/ bicycle routes for all educational levels, elementary to college is whats needed. Kids who walk or ride to school everyday, can form lifelong healthy habits, older independent students and parents can learn to incorporate more exercise into their daily lives. I for example bicycle ride to college almost daily, and it helps me by waking me up, and gets rid of some energy to help me settle down and focus. Walking and riding to school to also help society. If people feel better from exercise, slow the pace of there lives down, then perhaps people will then take the time effort to make friends, instead of saying i’m too busy all the time, we could reduce traffic and smog, So overall we could create a happier healthier society. Plus if kids learn to be independent by transporting themselves to and from school, that could lead to a lifetime of success.