Why don’t kids ride their bikes to school?
One key reason is the lack of safe routes. We’re proposing solutions in 10 Infrastructure Reports created for each of our Alberta Eco-Trust funded schools. These reports, created by University of Calgary Master of Planning grads Adam Schwartz and Nada Affan, will ideally spark conversations at schools and in communities about active transportation and safe routes to school.
“It’s a vicious cycle at schools – there are so many vehicles and traffic congestion that pedestrians and cyclists don’t feel safe, and that leads to more driving and more risks of injuries to vulnerable road users,” said Laura Shutiak, Executive Director of Youth en Route. “We need to think about how we design roads and routes around schools to encourage active travel and make it safer.”
In Calgary, a considerable number of youth say unsafe routes prevent them from choosing Active Travel.
At our 10 schools, 32 percent of students cite unsafe routes and heavy car traffic as their top reason for not riding bikes. Dr. E.P. Scarlett High School had the highest percentage of concerned students at 41 percent, while Forest Lawn High School had the lowest at 22 percent, likely due to protected bike lanes around the community that offer a safer alternative away from cars.
This is where our Infrastructure Reports come in. They explain how the Always Available for All Ages and Abilities (5A) network can be expanded around schools. These reports will be valuable resources for school administrators, school board officials, parents and city planners.
The green lines are designated bike paths, notice how they don’t always connect: bike-paths-map-city-calgary
“These reports are a way to help students understand what the risks actually are and could be useful to do some planning and make smart decisions about how they come and go to and from school. They could also serve as an encouragement to kids to try it, knowing that it is possible,” said Mark Andersen, Assistant Principal of Forest Lawn High School.
Affan and Schwartz constructed these reports to offer research findings and actionable recommendations to improve the infrastructure around schools demonstrating the possibilities. By highlighting safer routes and emphasizing the need for pedestrian infrastructure like lights, crosswalks, and Vision Zero standards, the reports aim to create a safer environment for the students.
Each report is tailored specifically to the unique characteristics of each school community and uses data from students, collected in Youth en Route’s School Transportation Survey.
Affan and Schwartz led engagement sessions with students and community members to understand the local context.
Too often, infrastructure improvements in communities are driven by complaints or residents asking for changes. In Calgary, we tend to see an uneven distribution of simple traffic calming measures. Far more are installed in wealthier areas in SW and NW Calgary where residents lobby for them. Left out are communities where residents lack the skills, language or time to advocate for change.
Our hope is that this help fills the void in areas that would really benefit from improvements to safety in the public realm, empowering more youth to be able to choose active travel.
“These reports are going to be awesome tools to start the discussion for high schools across the city, and begin proposing solutions for better routes, more pedestrian and cyclist-oriented infrastructure. It is very often the case that there won’t be copy and pasting solutions across the city, but because of the variety of types of roads and neighbourhoods, it will require some thoughtful interventions from a variety of groups and individuals.
“Exploring each school and their unique assets, identifying issues on school routes, and proposing recommendations for feasible infrastructure improvements is all part of the process of encouraging safe and active transportation routes. The right infrastructure is key to creating safe and healthy environments for pedestrians and cyclists, and these reports are valuable resources to help initiate these changes.” Said one of the authors of the Infrastructures reports, Nada Affan
Adam Schwartz continues: “It is very often the case that there won’t be copied and pasting solutions across the city, but all the work won’t go to waste, and will hopefully support the next generation that will have walking and wheeling to school be their most straightforward transportation option.”
Special thanks to Tate HubkaRao and Janet Aucoin, PhD candidates from the Child Active-Transportation Safety and the Environment study at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary for their support of our work. Their review and comments made improvements to the final versions of our reports.
Sustainable Calgary planner Srimal Ranasinghe also worked with our team and provided valuable contributions. Collaboration is vital as our city looks to make improvements for active travel.
These reports are funded by Alberta Eco-Trust through the Climate Improvement Fund grant.
Here they are: