Parents from three Comox Valley schools responded positively to the idea of active travel to school for their children.
Active Travel to School program co-ordinator Angela Holmes sent out nearly 1,000 surveys at the end of October to families at the three Comox Valley pilot schools, École Puntledge Park, École Robb Road and Huband Park Elementary.
Holmes says the return rate on the surveys has been good at about 30 per cent per school, and they’re still trickling in.
“And out of those (returned) I’m really struck at how many families have answered, ‘Yes’ to the question, ‘Do you support active travel?'” says Holmes, noting almost all respondents replied positively to that question. “So, that’s encouraging. I think people see it as a way to have safer and healthier commutes for themselves and their kids.”
Holmes, who is a Puntledge parent, was hired by the Comox Valley School District to co-ordinate the new Active Travel to School program. By the end of the school year, Holmes expects to complete student travel plans and safe routes to schools maps for each of the three pilot schools. If the program shows success the hope is to expand it to other Comox Valley schools in the future.
This year’s program is a partnership between the school district, City of Courtenay, Town of Comox and the Comox Valley Cycling Task Force.
According to an Active Travel news release, about 70 per cent of Comox Valley elementary students within 1.6 km (a 15-minute walk) of their school are driven. Childhood obesity, air quality, traffic congestion around schools, and rising gas costs are a few reasons for the need for increased active travel, according to the release.
The first step, according to Holmes, is to gather data to see where the issues are. She’s busy inputing data from the surveys and expects to be finished by the end of this month. Then, walkabouts will happen at each of the schools. Those will include parents, school staff, municipal staff, (such as planners and engineers), and other interested stakeholders — the people who can make infrastructure changes as well as behavioural changes, according to Holmes.
“So you’re actually walking around the neighbourhood of the school and you’re going to those key places that have been identified as dangerous or of concern,” says Holmes, noting concerns vary from school to school.
Some Huband parents, for instance, are concerned about cougars stalking their children as they travel to school. Meanwhile, Puntledge parent Sharleen Kneeland notes busy traffic on Fifth Street is a concern for her and other area parents as they walk their children across the road to Woods Avenue on the way to school.
“I would say it’s a growing concern,” says Kneeland, noting two recent incidents where children were hit by vehicles. Though not right at that crossing, the accidents were close enough to the area to heighten parent concerns, and Kneeland would like to see a flag person or more signage at the crosswalk by Woods Avenue.
Holmes says ‘parent champions’ at each school are very important to the program’s long-term sustainability, as parents can carry ideas learned this year into future years.
The program will be reviewed later in the school year, and if deemed successful, could expand to other schools in future years.
For more information, visit Active Travel to School Comox Valley on Facebook, or call Angela Holmes at 250-703-1516.