Watertown, Massachusetts: Walking Wednesdays in Watertown, MA

Introduction

Watertown, MA, is a compact city with a population of 33,000 people located six miles northwest of Boston. Only one of the three pre-kindergarten through fifth grade elementary schools in the district provides bus service. The other two schools do not have any students who live beyond a one mile radius of the school, which is required for a bus service to be offered. Safe Routes to School (SRTS) initiatives began at Lowell Elementary School in January 2007 and at Hosmer Elementary School in fall 2007. Before the program began, 18 percent of students walked regularly to Lowell Elementary, and 19 percent of students walked regularly to Hosmer Elementary.

Activities

The Watertown Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, a citizen’s government committee, initiated a SRTS program at Lowell Elementary at the beginning of the 2007 spring semester. After receiving feedback from parent surveys, it was decided that a Walking Wednesday Program would be the best option for a start-up SRTS program. The first Walking Wednesday at Lowell Elementary occurred on March 21, 2007 and upon arriving at school on the kick-off day, students were greeted by numerous elected town officials, the school superintendent and parents. During this first week, a lighted message board was placed near the main road at the school to inform drivers that students would be walking to school.

The success of the Walking Wednesday activity at Lowell Elementary led to the expansion of the program to Hosmer Elementary in fall 2007. The Walking Wednesdays program was accompanied with a pedestrian safety training component taught to second and third grader students at both Hosmer and Lowell Elementary. At both schools the Walking Wednesdays program was run by volunteer parents and community members. The safety training program was taught by parents and community volunteers who had received an orientation on pedestrian safety training. The Watertown Community Foundation provided a grant for $1,250 to pay for the training and to fund pedometers for the Lowell School program.

Milestones

Lowell and Hosmer Elementary officials distributed parent surveys before the SRTS activities began, and the surveys revealed that 55 percent of Lowell Elementary students arrived to school by car, 18 percent walked and 9 percent carpooled. Parent surveys were distributed at Lowell and Hosmer Elementary before the SRTS activities began showed that 55 percent of Lowell Elementary students arrived were driven to school by their parents, 18 percent walked to school, and 9 percent arrived to school in a carpool. At Lowell Elementary, 78 percent of students were driven to school, and 19 percent walked. In June 2007, after the first year of the Lowell Elementary Walking Wednesdays program, the students who walked all thirteen weeks received pedometers donated by the Watertown Citizens for Environmental Safety. Forty-five percent of the school’s student population walked all thirteen weeks, and the school principal reported a decrease in traffic at the drop-off area during the Walking Wednesdays program.

Results for the Hosmer Elementary Walking Wednesday program have not been determined, but it is expected that a parent survey scheduled for spring 2008 will provide school officials with results. The  Walking Wednesday program has started again at both schools for the spring 2008 semester, and it is expected to continue and expand to the third elementary school, if future SRTS funds are secured. The Watertown Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee recently submitted a proposal for SRTS funds to WalkBoston. The proposal for $6,100 will go toward hiring a local program coordinator, and purchasing pedometers and safety training vests. The local program coordinator will gain support and expand the Walking Wednesdays program to the remaining elementary schoo and recruit Walking School Bus coordinators for all three schools. If the grant is received, the Watertown Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee believes that 50 percent of elementary school students will walk to school on a daily basis.

Contact

Mari Ryan
Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee
Phone: 617-921-0784
Email: walking@watertowncitizens.org