Overland Park, Kansas: Introducing the Walking School Bus

Introduction

During the fall 2008 school year at Pawnee Elementary School in the City of Overland Park, KS, students will have a new bus stop to wait at — the pick-up area for the Walking School Bus.

Activities

In October 2008, the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) notified the City of Overland Park that it received a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) non-infrastructure grant for $14,525 to hire an SRTS coordinator at Pawnee. The coordinators primarily will be in charge of implementing a Walking School Bus program, in which a group of children walk to school with one or more adults.

Guy Alon, traffic engineer for the City of Overland Park Public Works, said he first heard of SRTS in 2006 during a day-long SRTS event organized by the Kansas state coordinator. At that time, Alon had envisioned an infrastructure program for the City of Overland Park, but after that fell through, he began working with Pawnee to create a Walking School Bus program and applied for the non-infrastructure grant from KDOT, which they received in July 2008.

“When this SRTS program came along it just kind of fell into my lap,” Alon said.

Part of Alon’s duties include him visiting different schools in the Pawnee Mission School District and learning about the problems that parents and students face in walking and bicycling to school.

“Usually, when the parents come to pick up the kids, there’s this mess of people trying to get into the school and leave, and there are kids trying to leave,” Alon said.

Armed with the idea of an SRTS program to promote safe walking and bicycling, Alon said he introduced SRTS as to school principals as a solution to traffic congestion. The principal at Pawnee was interested in the program and decided that the Walking School Bus was the most appropriate program for both the students and parents. At Pawnee, 80 percent of the 500 students live within walking distance from the school, but only 16 percent of the walk or bicycle to school. Because of their close proximity to school, students at Pawnee are not eligible for school bus service. As a result, many parents drive their children to and from school, which contributes to the high levels of traffic congestion present in the morning and afternoon.

To organize the Walking School Bus, which is slated to begin sometime during the fall 2008 school year, Alon said the City will use half the grant money to fund an SRTS coordinator to act as a Walking School Bus driver.

“The coordinator will have three hats — coordinator, driver and ambassador,” Alon said. “This person will go to other schools to talk to them and get them interested in the program and also to have educational activities in going to a school and talking about walking safely.”

Once the program gains support from parents, the SRTS coordinator then will solicit adult volunteers to serve as drivers, and the coordinator will focus on promoting other SRTS events.

Parents and students will be able to meet the coordinator at Pawnee’s ice cream social, an event the school organizes before the start of each school year. Alon said he wants to encourage parents and their children to walk to the ice cream event, so everyone will begin thinking about the importance and benefits of walking and bicycling to school.

Milestones

When the Walking School Bus begins, there will be one designated route for the students to follow as the coordinator leads them to school. Once there are other volunteers, Alon said there are two more designated routes for students to use to walk and bicycle safely to school. The plan is for the Walking School Bus to be a daily event, and there will be incentives and competitions to motivate the students to walk to school regularly. Alon said the grant money will be used to purchase these incentives, as well as vests for the drivers to wear and handheld radios in case they need to communicate with the schools. Also, to encourage volunteers to lead the Walking School Bus, Alon said he plans to purchase small incentives as a way of thanks.

Contact

Guy Alon
Traffic Engineer
City of Overland Park Public Works
Phone: (913) 895-6093
Email: Guy.alon@opkansas.org