Making the Trip to School Safer for Kids – and Adults

School may be out for summer break, but many kids have summer school.  And soon they’ll be back this fall. What’s a parent to do? Every morning as kids head out on bike or on foot, parents have to wonder – is my child safe?

Speeding cars, missing or cracked sidewalks, faded crosswalks or busy intersections are just some of the reasons cited by parents who are reluctant to let their child walk or bike to school – or to a friend’s house.

To identify the barriers and more importantly to find solutions for them, Healthy Central Florida conducted “walk audits” at 10 area schools.  Principals, law enforcement, city traffic officials, teachers and even students participated in these walk and talk discussions.

We learned that every school and every challenge is unique.  At Lakemont Elementary School, with a four-lane road that feels like a highway out front, a more intensive and possibly longer-term solution is needed to slow and calm traffic.  This could take years to fix but the discussions have begun.

At Brookshire Elementary, parents and school personnel agreed that the current drop-off site was unsafe and unsanctioned.  Parents were dropping off where there was no crosswalk or crossing guard present. Within a matter of weeks of the audit, curbs were painted and the crossing guard was reassigned to the new site.

At Hungerford Elementary School, the team identified a section of missing sidewalk and other impediments to walking and biking. With a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) official as part of the audit team, potential design solutions as well as grant dollars were identified.  Plans are continuing.

It’s important to remember that sidewalks, bike lanes or multi-use paths mean safety and mobility for everyone – not just for students.  A grandparent who uses a cane or walker, a mom pushing a stroller or teens walking to a park – we all need sidewalks or bike lanes to get around safely.

One student told us about a time when she was biking to school and fell into a ditch because the sidewalk wasn’t wide enough for two bikes to pass safely. Luckily, she was wearing a helmet!  Other neighbors, crossing guards and students shared similar stories about unsafe conditions around our schools and neighborhoods. The good news is that many partners are working together to develop and fund solutions.

Our walking audits are just one of the many ways Healthy Central Florida is working with partners to design and build healthier communities – one where children and their families can walk and bike safely to school – or to parks, farmer’s markets or shops.  Working with city staff from several municipalities, MetroPlan, Orange County (O.C.) Public Schools and O.C. traffic engineering, Winter Park Health Foundation and area police departments, Healthy Central Florida leaders are confident that we can make our communities more walk and bike-friendly.  But, we need your help and feedback.

How You Can Help:  If you see a barrier to walking or biking – let us know where the problem is located and what you think is needed. Your voice matters.  For example, let us know if you see:

– A sidewalk that’s in need of repair – or a sidewalk that’s missing altogether

– A crosswalk or pedestrian signal that would help people cross more safely

– Speeding traffic – instead of police who can only monitor occasionally, perhaps a more permanent engineering solution is needed (narrow the lanes, plant street trees, alter the road to slow traffic)

– Missing Bike Lanes – What roads could use a striped bike lane, “Sharrows” (the bicycle painted on the street to let drivers know that bikes are sharing the lane), or maybe a multi-use or “side path” – a wider sidewalk that is an option for all users (like Baldwin Park loop)?

– Other ideas – we’re open and looking for public engagement to make our communities safer, more comfortable and more walkable and bike-able for all.  Email info@healthycf.org with your concern or idea.

– Your voice really does matter as we let elected officials and city staff know that walking/biking are important in our communities. Thank you!