Reviewing the Safe Routes culture in Takoma Park
By Lucy Neher
Walking and biking are long-established priorities in Takoma Park, with multiple programs offered through Safe Routes to Schools — from an awareness-raising 5K race to advocacy for crossing guards and coordination with city planners for new sidewalks, traffic calming and bike parking. There have been Walk to School days, Bike to School days, a Bike Rodeo and a skating safety workshop.
To keep it fresh, Safe Routes to School conducts an annual survey of parents whose children attend local schools. What’s working? What’s not? What could we add?
The survey, issued by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, may seem redundant for some who have filled it out up to 16 times, but it does provide data spanning eight years that can inform the direction the city takes when applying for additional grant funding.
Arguably, the most useful information from the survey comes from the comment section, where parents have an opportunity to share insights, observations and suggestions. On many occasions these comments have had a direct impact. For example, when many parents used the survey to request a crossing guard post at Takoma Junction, this was shared with the Takoma Park Police, who conducted a study that resulted in a safer crossing for students there.
Most comments are well meaning and constructive. Others are wrought with frustration and misunderstanding. With limited time (15 hours a week) and strict restrictions based on the measures of this federally funded grant, some of the suggestions which may seem like an easy fix, are just not feasible. On many occasions, Safe Routes has advocated on behalf of residents for improvements outside of the city’s jurisdiction, for example when an issue concerns a state road or county government attention.
The spring 2015 survey revealed a common interest: Many parents requested a way to create a buddy system for walking and biking to school. This can mean two students who agree to meet up in the morning and afternoon to walk together or a more organized Walking School Bus concept. A number of times over the years, Safe Routes has attempted to establish a formalized way for families to find compatible walking and biking to school partners and some walking groups have formed organically. The benefits are obvious, student safety being number one. Beyond the survey, parents are invited to become involved in the process of developing ways for students to walk to school safely and together.
If you would like to get involved in starting a buddy system or walking school bus, contact Lucy Neher, Safe Routes to School Coordinator, at lucyn@takomaparkmd. gov or 301-891-7235.
This article appeared in the July 2015 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.