Comox Valley students learning to get to school actively
The Comox Valley Board of Education highly praised this year's pilot project designed to increase active travel to school.
The Active Travel program has been implemented at three Comox Valley elementary schools, École Puntledge Park, École Robb Road and Huband Park. Program co-ordinator Angela Holmes updated the board on the project's progress last week, noting in May these schools can expect to receive student travel plans and best routes to school maps.
Board chair Peter Coleman said the project has "significantly exceeded" his expectations.
"I think this is one of the best things we've done in our mandate," he added to fellow trustees.
Although the pilot is not yet complete, trustee Donna Gambacorta said she could personally see the results.
"I live just two blocks from one of the pilot schools and if I didn't know what was going on I would be questioning, because the cars are gone," she said. "It used to be you'd see one or two parents and their own kids (walking or biking to school). Now, it's five, six, seven kids giggling on their way to school and very few parents — they're travelling in groups — and it's really amazing to see."
Holmes gathered data via surveys to parents in the fall, which enabled her to see how families were traveling to school and determine barriers to increasing the number of students actively traveling to school.
She noted traffic congestion is a worry for many parents concerned about their child's safety when walking or biking to school. But, she also pointed out traffic congestion around schools is increased by parents driving their children to school, compounding the problem.
"Fifty-eight per cent of family respondents to the survey in October said they are a one-car family driving to school," she continued. "There's not even a carpooling culture going on, so there's lots of room for change, lots of room for improvement."
Many stakeholders have come together to make the project a success, including the four Comox Valley municipalities, the Ministry of Transportation, Island Health, the Comox Valley RCMP, the Comox Valley Cycling Coalition, Comox Valley Cycling Task Force, Lake Trail Community Connections and school parents, staff, students and neighbours.
Stakeholder groups did walkabouts at each pilot school earlier this year, looking at traffic congestion areas, identifying hazards and walking potential best routes to school.
Holmes showed the Board of Education draft best routes to school maps, which highlight things like bus routes, the best biking and walking routes, trails, cross walks and 'priority action items' such a crosswalk upgrade slated for Huband and Mottishaw roads.
Trustee Sheila McDonnell, who first brought up the idea for the project more than a year ago, noted the travel plans are tailored to each school and she likes that input comes from numerous sources.
Funding for the pilot project came from the school district ($10,000), the cycling task force ($6,000), Courtenay ($5,000) and a Healthy Families BC grant, via Comox ($5,000).
If funding is available for next year, the project will expand to three more Comox Valley schools.
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École Robb Road Elementary will host a community bike swap April 13 to promote active travel to school and fundraise for school improvement projects.
Organizer and parent Lauren Lan hopes many people will buy and sell bikes and associated gear during the swap, which will happen from noon to 3.
Those wishing to sell must check in April 12 from 3 to 6 p.m. or April 13 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Sellers will pay $1 to register each item they put up for sale, and there will be a consignment fee of 15 per cent up to $1,500 of the sale price.
Funds raised will go to planned Robb Road Legacy Projects like an outdoor classroom and an outdoor covered bike shelter.
Although adult bikes and gear will be gladly included, Lan points out the bike swap is designed to get more kids out on bikes.
"Understandably, a lot of parents aren't wanting to fork over $1,000 for a bike for their child that they're potentially going to grow out of within a year or two, so it's just a great opportunity for kids to get their hands on a bike without having to pay that big, brand new price tag that goes with it," says Lan.
For more information, visit Robb Road's website at www2.sd71.bc.ca/robbroad.