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How Seattle plans to fuel its grassroots walk-and-bike-to-school revolution

A small part of a giant bike train to Bryant Elementary
A small part of a giant bike train to Bryant Elementary

With parents and students leading the way, supported by city staff, elected officials and safe streets organizations, Seattle just dropped an astounding plan to take the city’s walk-and-bike-to-school revolution to the next level.

The plan has been a long time in the making and includes extensive research into best practices for cities, parents, students, schools and police to all work together to increase the number of students getting to class under their own power safely. It outlines how to improve safety today, but also outlines how to invest in infrastructure and youth education to increase safety for a generation.

For example, every Seattle Public Schools 3rd, 4th and 5th Grade class will receive in-class biking and walking education starting next school year thanks to a partnership between the city, SPS and Cascade Bicycle Club. This is a huge increase in youth biking and walking education, which currently only reaches 32 of 71 elementary schools.

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The city will also invest in safe streets changes like better crosswalks, speed humps and sidewalks. And funding to power these changes will come from a wide variety of sources including more of the city’s brilliant speed cameras and, of course, from Move Seattle if voters approve Seattle’s Prop 1 this month.

“Our city is growing rapidly and the population of school age children grows with it,” Mayor Ed Murray wrote in the intro to the plan.

A huge amount of peak-hour traffic is just for school drop-off and pick-up. Meanwhile, 83 percent of public school students live within their school’s walk zone and nearly all live within the bike zone.

Walking and biking to school is good for student health and is proven to help kids stay focused during class. But it’s also vital for helping the whole city keep moving as it grows. Even people without kids have a stake in this plan.

And the good news is that efforts in recent years are working, so we’re on the right track.


But one of the biggest impediments to more kids walking or biking to school is parental fear of traffic danger. It’s a terrible spiral where parents are scared to let their kids walk or bike, so they drive them, adding more traffic to school streets and making other parents scared to let their kids walk or bike, and on and on…

“This plan, along with our Vision Zero effort, provides the tools to take safety on our streets to unprecedented levels,” wrote SDOT Director Scott Kubly.

But the plan is far from a top-down effort. Engaged parents really led the way on biking and walking efforts at Seattle schools in recent years, organizing successful student encouragement projects and lobbying the district and city for improvements. Many of these parents — including Clint Loper, who has contributed to Seattle Bike Blog several times in past years on school transportation issues — helped craft the plan as part of the School Road Safety Task Force.

The grassroots powering the plan make it one of the best collections of ideas you will find in any road safety plan. It’s an amazing resource for other parents, students or educators wanting to improve transportation at their schools, and it’s an amazing resource for other cities to catch up with Seattle’s successes so far.

You can download the plan here in this PDF. Also check out these incredible resources:

There is so much in this plan, we can’t cover it all in one post. So stay tuned for more coverage in coming days. And if you flip through the documents posted here, be sure to share your thoughts or your favorite highlights in the comments below.

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6 responses to “How Seattle plans to fuel its grassroots walk-and-bike-to-school revolution”

  1. Southeasterner

    Of the remaining 76% how much is school bus vs. getting a ride from parents?

    My experience was walking to school grades K-5, biking/bus 6-8, bus 9-12. Granted that was many many years ago…but I still see quite a few yellow buses roaming the streets of Seattle.

  2. […] pollution levels on neighborhood streets dropped dramatically during an open streets event. And Seattle Bike Blog has an update on the city’s efforts to encourage biking and walking to […]

  3. Alexander

    The 2005-2015 increase in kids walking to school is likely the result of the change back to neighborhood school assignments for elementary school which took place during that period (2010 IIRC). More kids now live closer to their assigned schools, so more of them can walk.

    That 83% number for walking potential seems really high. Is that just elementary school students? Many neighborhoods don’t have middle/high schools within even 2 miles, which is about the fringe of what I’d consider even potentially walkable.

    1. Gary

      Two miles is definitely the upper limit for walking, it’s roughly a half hour and unless the schools move the start time to later for the High School kids, they won’t be walking. (30 to 40 minutes depending on your ability)

      As for bicycling, it’s very do-able… 10 to 15 minutes tops.

  4. […] Walking and biking to school is on the rise in Seattle, but it could go much higher. Source: Image via Seattle Bike Blog […]

  5. […] this month, we reported on the city’s fantastic School Road Safety Plan, designed to help schools, parents, students […]

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