Missoula, Montana: Students Participate in Weekly Walking School Buses

Introduction

In summer 2006, the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Board of Missoula, Mont., engaged school and community organizations in the creation of a city-wide Safe Routes to School (SRTS) steering group with the goal of increasing the number of students that walked or bicycled to school and the awareness of the benefits of walking and bicycling to school.

Activities

The steering group received a grant in 2006 through the Montana Department of Transportation totaling $82,500 in federal SRTS funds. Part of this grant ($37,500) will go toward infrastructure improvements such as the installation of a median island and corner bulb-outs along walking routes. The rest of the grant ($45,000) will be directed toward district-wide non-infrastructure efforts in education, encouragement, enforcement and mapping.

To identify and communicate route information, the town of Missoula is working with the University of Montana to develop a mapping system using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. The use of GIS mapping will allow schools in the district to create customized maps that provide administrators and SRTS teams with information such as the number and location of students living in the attendance area, vehicle traffic counts on arterial roads, accident histories, and the registered addresses of violent and sexual offenders.

The system also will provide a means for producing high-quality route maps for distribution. In addition to the district-wide improvements, each school will receive $2,400 directly to put toward encouragement activities of their choosing. For example, Lewis & Clark Elementary School, a kindergarten through fifth grade school in Missoula, is using part of its funds to continue and enhance their Footloose Fridays program, a weekly Walking School Bus activity that began four years ago. International Walk to School Day in October marks the annual kick-off for the event. Every Friday thereafter, provided that the temperature is above freezing, four walking school buses led by parent volunteers lead children along one of four routes to the school.

With its non-infrastructure grant, Lewis & Clark Elementary’s SRTS team also wants to purchase bicycle trailers to be pushed or pulled along the walking school bus routes by the volunteers. The trailers will carry students’ backpacks, as well as snacks, extra clothing and entertaining supplies such as instruments and funny hats. The money also will go toward purchasing a “Footloose Fridays” banner for the schoolyard, laminated punch-cards attached to key chains to be hung from the students’ backpacks and portable life-size signs of children walking to be placed by the side of the road to slow traffic and increase safety awareness.

As a complement to the SRTS activities, the physical education teacher at Lewis & Clark Elementary incorporates bicycle safety lessons and activities into his lesson plans and organizes a Bicycle Rodeo in the spring. The rodeo is an after school event organized with the help of parent volunteers who set up different stations that students visit to learn about bicycle safety issues, practice bicycle safety techniques and maneuver through a bicycle obstacle course.

Milestones

In the future, the SRTS steering group plans to involve more schools in the district in SRTS activities and to create a radio-based media campaign to promote SRTS and pedestrian safety awareness. Ultimately, the steering group wants to maximize its effectiveness as a community-wide SRTS advocate and resource for school-based initiatives and to continue to raise community awareness of the social and health benefits of walking and bicycling.

Contact

James Pool
Chairman of the Missoula Safe Routes to School Steering Group
Missoula, MT
Phone: (406) 829-8918
Email: wonder_land@qwest.net