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Candidates asked to take the Active Communities Pledge: ROADS FOR ALL

Sept. 3, 2014
By Leah Wong

With school starting and parents back to shuttling their kids to school by car, discussion about kids using active transportation to get to school is back on the table.

Congestion and public transit have been high priority during the municipal election, and active transportation advocates are pushing to get children added to the conversation.

“As we’re talking about transit and congestion it’s the perfect time to have the discussion about the school run,” Canada Walks director Jacky Kennedy told NRU.

There are three barriers preventing parents from letting their children get to school via active transportation - convenience, weather and distance. Kennedy said many parents think 1 km is the farthest a child should travel using active transportation to get to school.

The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada’s report card on the physical activity of children and youth compared the level of activity of Canadian kids and those in 14 other countries around the world. One of the countries that scored much better than Canada in active transportation is Finland, where 70 per cent of families use active transportation to travel when school is 1-3 km away, at 1 km away it’s 100 per cent.

“All of those barriers, the distance, and the weather get thrown out the window. If they can do it in Finland with the weather they have and the distances they have, then we can certainly do it here in Canada,” said Kennedy, noting that Finland has much colder temperatures than Canada. “Convenience is the biggest thing and it has to do with our car culture.”

One of the ways cycling advocacy organization Share the Road is looking to keep active transportation on the municipal agenda is with its Active Communities Pledge. Share the pledge asks municipal candidates to support active transportation. For mayoral and councillor candidates this includes working with the community to achieve Bike Friendly and Walk Friendly status, while school trustee candidates are asked to support the creation of School Travel Plans.

To date more than 50 municipal candidates across Ontario have signed the Active Communities Pledge. Currently Kitchener-Waterloo candidates make up the largest proportion, though the numbers are growing in the GTHA. As the pledge gains attention in one community and candidates start signing on, the attention continues to grow, Share the Road project manager Justin Jones told NRU.

This is one of the coalition’s first initiatives to get school boards involved in an active transportation campaign, as it asks school trustees to sign on as well as council candidates.

“Our polling in 2014 indicates 89 per cent of Ontario residents support investing in active and safe routes to school programs,” said Jones. “We saw an opportunity to start reaching out to the school boards.”

Share the Road has released an annual poll for the last five years. Jones said the polls have shown increasing support for an overall investment in active transportation.

“More Ontarians say they want to be riding their bikes more often, but they don’t feel safe,” said Jones. “We’re really trying to push that information out there.”

Safety is a big issue when it comes to active transportation. Share the Road’s survey found 67 per cent of Ontario residents would ride their bikes more often if their community had better cycling infrastructure. Walk Canada has found parents would stop driving their kids to school either if they lived closer to the school, or if the infrastructure was more kid-friendly.

Completed sidewalks, slower road speeds and complete street policies are some of the ways infrastructure could be improved to be friendlier to children, said Kennedy. These are all issues that will really need support from local councillors to move forward. Municipal infrastructure will get kids to schools and from there schools need to make sure their infrastructure is also working properly. This could include having adequate bike parking and controlling parking lots.

Green Communities Canada - the parent organization of Canada Walks - is also working with Metrolinx to bring municipalities and school districts in the GTHA together to come up with common practices for school travel. This partnership has been ongoing and includes a pilot project using the school planning model in Brampton, Hamilton and Mississauga.

Local councillors and school trustees are two of the stakeholders that need to be involved in school travel plans. These plans address the barriers to using active transportation to get to school and are used to develop and implement action plans. Kennedy says plans also get the issue of the school trip on the table and get it added to the broader conversation about active transportation.