Friday, October 26, 2018

Environment near schools for bikes, walkers, cars needs to be improved

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 10/24/18

A car blocking the sidewalk is an all-too-common sight around Allen Park Elementary School in Fort Myers,
even with No Parking signs posted everywhere.
Even if you don’t live very near a school there’s a good chance you’re affected by one or more of them each day they’re in session. Whether you’re a nearby resident or simply have to navigate around one or more schools during the morning or afternoon bells, you are well aware of the congestion and chaos around them. Based on conditions you witness daily, if you have a student in your household you’d understandably be skeptical of allowing your child to walk or ride a bike there. If you’re a chauffeur for your child, you are the reason for the problem.

I recently took part in Walk to School Day activities and a couple of bike-safety training sessions for school resource officers. Those experiences prompted me to again write about the very poor conditions for anyone around school campuses on foot or bike, and even in their cars. The relatively recent phenomenon (at least for an old guy like me) of so many kids being driven to school has resulted in a vicious cycle that won’t end unless changes are made. The environment is downright hostile, whether you’re a student, parent or just some poor sap who ventures near.

Per Florida policy, any student who lives within one mile (elementary) or two miles (all other grades) of a school are considered close enough to walk or bike unless there are hazardous walking conditions between home and the school — then a school bus would be an option. Hazardous walking conditions include crossing major highways where no crossing guards are in place, lack of safe conditions along busy roads (no sidewalk may not be enough to warrant hazardous conditions), or other things determined on a case-by-case basis. Many students who have bus transportation available, whether because they reside more than walking distance away or due to hazardous conditions, are instead driven by parents. For those eligible to be bused, this means wasted tax dollars because the bus must still be available for the entirety of the school year (the annual busing/ transportation budget for Lee District Schools is more than $58 million).

Besides congestion there’s the ongoing issue of speeding and driver distraction in school zones. Safe Kids Worldwide ( reports that within school zones the number of teen pedestrian deaths has increased 13 percent since 2013. But there are ways deal with the traffic problems created by the high number of parents driving kids to school.

Some customs, reported by the National Center for Bicycling and Walking (

  • In Odense, Denmark, parents are told at an assembly that their kids are capable of walking or biking to school and that student drop-offs are not allowed. Having a good bike/ped infrastructure is key to 80 percent of students using their feet or bikes.
  • Bolzano, Italy, closes the streets around schools to cars for 15 minutes before and after bell times and has been doing it for over 20 years. This has resulted in a 50 percent drop in injuries involving cars versus people. And one school in Vienna is doing the same as a pilot project.
  • A school in Vancouver, Canada, has taken the annual Walk/Bike to School Day concept and made it a weekly event. “Freedom Friday” was created as a way to encourage parents to allow their kids to get out of the car each Friday and it has resulted in a major increase in that happening as well as a coinciding significant decrease in cars around the school, exactly as intended.

While it is possible to change people’s behavior on this matter, the political will must be in place. Unfortunately, as is the case with our local leadership’s unwillingness to address the larger problem (i.e., being the most dangerous place in the U.S. for pedestrians), there’s little hope for anything like those examples to be undertaken here. But all it would take is one or two school principals or a few school board members to have the courage to take action to prove it can be done. Getting kids back on their feet, bikes, skateboards and scooters improves their health and ability to learn. Reducing the number of cars around schools creates a better environment for those kids and reduces the number of traffic-related injuries and fatalities. It’s a win-win. Keep abreast of issues like this by visiting ¦

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (; Florida Mudcutters (; and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group ( The Florida Bicycle Association ( is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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