Encouraging Walking, Bicycling and Carpooling

Carpoolers have preferred drop-off and pick-up lanes at St. Marks School in San Rafael, CA.

Naturally, a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program encourages students to bicycle and walk to school. But, some students simply live too far from their school to walk or bicycle, and are not provided with bus service. For those parents who must drive their children to school, several strategies can reduce traffic congestion at the school and in adjacent streets including park-and-walk and carpool programs. A park-and-walk program makes use of an off-site location as a parking area for parents (such as a nearby church or park) who then walk their child to school or join a regularly scheduled walking school bus to complete their journey. The Encouragement chapter of this guide describes park-and-walk and walking school bus programs in detail.

Families that have no alternative to driving their children to school can also carpool to reduce traffic congestion at the school.

Communities such as Charlottesville in Virginia, Fort Collins in Colorado, and Santa Cruz in California have developed “school pool” programs in which a voluntary group of parents share the responsibility of getting children to and from school safely. This can include walking, biking, carpooling or taking the bus, and whether done on a daily basis, occasionally or in case of an emergency, school pools help communities address child safety and reduce traffic congestion.

Many larger metropolitan areas around the nation have free programs that assist people with forming carpools. These programs are now extending their reach to include school related trips. Theschool poolprogram, for example, is a service that provides ‘matchlists’ to parents with students attending the same school so that students may carpool, walk, or bike together. In some cases participating schools provide student rosters containing names, addresses and phone numbers to the agency which then provides the computer matching. In other cases parents sign up individually and are matched with parents at the same school. After parents receive a matchlist of other parents, it is up to them to make the arrangements they prefer.

This flier from Marin County, CA SRTS Program advertises a “SchoolPool” program that promotes walking, bicycling, and carpooling.

The Mid-America Regional Council runs the RIDESHARE program for the greater Kansas City Region. School Pool is a service of RIDESHARE a free commuter matching services. RIDES for the San Francisco Bay Area operate a similar program. Bay Area Commuters, Inc. is a nonprofit organization promoting commute alternatives to driving alone to school or work.

Walking school buses and bicycle trains can be loosely structured or highly organized. For example, walking buses or bicycle trains can be as simple as neighborhood families deciding to walk or bicycle together. More formal, organized walking school buses and bicycle have a coordinator who recruits volunteers and participants, creates a schedule and designs a walking route. While requiring more effort, more structured walking school buses and bicycle trains offer the opportunity to involve more children.

Tool: Encouraging walking, bicycling and carpooling

What is it and how does it work?

  • Urge students and parents to walk and bike to school, and when not possible, to ride the bus or carpool.

Benefits strategy provides

  • Decrease traffic at school.
  • Reduce vehicle emissions.
  • Increase physical activity levels.

Key factors to consider

  • Develop encouragement activities to reflect specific situation at each school and within each community.

Putting It Into Practice: "25 or Less" Campaign

Morton Way Public School, Brampton Ontario, Canada

Morton Way Public School in Brampton, Ontario, Canada has 877 students in Junior Kindergarten through Grade 5. Approximately 50 students travel to school by school bus and the rest of the students live within walking distance of the school. During the past four years Morton Way has sustained a successful walk to school program with between 83 and 92 percent of students walking or bicycling to school on specific days.

Despite the success of the program, the Morton Way community still felt there were too many private vehicles dropping off students. They recently implemented a new initiative to reduce the amount of vehicles at the school through a '25 cars or less' campaign. A 'thermometer' is displayed to alert drivers how many vehicles dropped off students the day before and school PA announcements update the students of progress. There are also signs displayed around the school promoting the '25 or less' campaign.

See the Encouragement section for a description of other Morton Way SRTS activities.