One of the best ways to encourage more children to walk and bicycle to school is to provide families with the information they need to determine the best routes taking into account both safety and convenience. Once basic safety issues in the area around the school have been addressed, the following tips can help families and schools create maps for walking or bicycling to school.
Mapping basic information about the neighborhoods surrounding the school can be a great tool for selecting a route and also may be useful in identifying and prioritizing needed pedestrian and bicycling improvements. These maps may be low-tech or high-tech. Sometimes the best maps have simple hand drawn symbols over a commonly used and commercially available map. Maps can also be computer generated which allows for creating more tailored maps that can be easily updated.
Whatever technology used, route maps should include the following at a minimum:
Whenever possible, the maps should also show:
Sometimes this information is available from the school district or local planning or traffic engineering department. In some cases it may be necessary to gather more information through a walkabout, bikeabout, audit or other assessment method.
Make sure to keep the map simple and easy to read. The idea is to provide enough information for parents to help their child choose a route to school. Keep the information as objective and informative as possible, (e.g. indicate "heavy truck volumes" versus "dangerous road"). Make sure to include the date the map was created (or updated) on the map itself as well as instructions for parents to select a route with their child. For easy distribution the map will likely be photo-copied on 8 ½ x 11 paper in black and white, so the graphics should be simple and easy to read.
Once the map is finished, send it home with students and post it on the school's Web site. A letter from the school should also be included with information about the school's walking and bicycling program, instructions for using the map to determine the best route, and basic safety guidelines.
Encourage parents to determine the best route for their child. Even if a school designates a specific walking or bicycling route, strongly encourage parents to walk or bicycle with their children to determine the best way to school or where they can join the designated route. Parents should help their children select a walking or bicycling route with the least amount of traffic and intersections. Parents should also reevaluate the route several times throughout the school year to ensure the selected route is still the best route.
For more information on creating walking and bicycling route maps, please visit www.saferoutesinfo.org/program-tools/engineering-tip-sheets-assessing-walking-and-bicycling-routes-selection-tools.
Creating route maps can be a great way to start a dialogue about Safe Routes to School. Assessing the walking and bicycling conditions around the school to create route maps provides the added benefit of helping each school identify and prioritize improvements. Make sure maps and assessment feed back into a process for making such improvements.
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