When the next school year starts so will a new-to-the-Valley Active Student Travel initiative.
Designed to increase and sustain active travel to and from school, the initiative was suggested by Trustee Sheila McDonnell, transportation committee chair, at the January Comox Valley Board of Education meeting.
Trustees voted in favour of contributing a one-time grant of $10,000 from the transportation budget, which was subject to other Valley organizations chipping in $20,000 by June 30.
During last week’s Board of Education meeting, McDonnell noted other organizations had put forward $16,000 so far, making total finances committed to the project $26,000 rather than $30,000.
Her briefing note pointed out the vast majority of the initiative costs relate to salary and benefits from hiring an active student travel co-ordinator. She suggested still going ahead with the initiative, but structuring it to cost $26,000 rather than $30,000.
The initiative will be reviewed to determine its success before any other grants from the school district are committed to it.
The Comox Valley Cycling Task Force committed $6,000 and City of Courtenay committed $5,000 this year and next year. Though the Town of Comox did not commit funds, as the matter came up too late in its budget process, it applied for a $5,000 grant from Healthy Families BC, which it is still waiting to hear back about.
McDonnell pointed out the Village of Cumberland is interested in the initiative as well and has asked for a presentation at about it at a council meeting.
The co-ordinator, who is expected to be hired by August, will work with schools and community stakeholders to identify barriers to active transportation and develop a written action plan for each participating school, as well as Best Routes to School map brochures, among other things.
McDonnell later told the Record the co-ordinator will likely work with four or five schools during the first year.
“There’s a couple schools that have real congestion issues that we want to work on, and then there’s a couple of schools that are so interested already, and showing all the signs of wanting to move forward,” she said, noting Cumberland, École Puntledge Park, Brooklyn and École Robb Road elementary schools will likely be participant schools, but plans aren’t finalized yet.
School district goals of the initiative are:
•increased student activity linked to student success;
•reduced costs for parking lots, supervision time;
•increased safety at schools, better air quality;
•school community capacity building, leading to more parent engagement;
McDonnell notes volunteer groups already do programs such as walking school buses and there’s bike rodeos at various schools thanks to the Cycling Task Force, but having a co-ordinator will help tie things together.
“When you have a little co-ordination to help the volunteer effort it just makes such a huge difference,” said McDonnell. “I’m quite excited about it.”
For more information visit the Active Travel to School Comox Valley Facebook page.