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Happy Walk To School Day! Share Your Stories

Today, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell walks

Today, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell celebrated Walk to School Day with the students of Ramona Elementary School in East Hollywood. Photo via O’Farrell Facebook page

It’s Walktober, and today is International Walk to School Day! The L.A. City Department of Transportation (LADOT) set up a helpful Los Angeles Walk to School Day website with supportive tips, a map of participating schools, and other great stuff. 85 schools are participating in this second annual citywide Walk to School Day LA with 66 of them participating today.

In 2013, over three-fifths (61%) of the organizers indicated that they thought their students got more physical activity on the day of their Walk to School Day event than on a typical day. Over three quarters (77%) indicated that difficult intersection crossings or heavy traffic traveling at high speeds make children feel unsafe walking to school. Nearly half or participants (44%) reported a lack of traffic safety skills as a reason that children feel unsafe.

How was your family’s walk to school today? If you did or didn’t walk, tell us about why or why not? Share photos, links, etc. via the comments below.


Governor Brown Vetoes CA Bill to Increase Fines in School Zones

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 1151, which would have raised fines for traffic violations in school zones. The legislation, authored by Senator Anthony Canella (R-Ceres), was co-sponsored by the Safe Routes to School National Coalition, transportation advocates TransForm, and the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program. The bill was designed to reduce traffic violations near schools, and money raised from the fine increases would have been earmarked for programs that encourage walking and biking.

CA Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased driver violation fines and dedicated the revenue to providing safer passage for students walking to school. Photo: Elizabeth Edwards,

Governor Brown, who is known to dislike bills that raise fines for revenue, called S.B. 1151 regressive in his veto message [PDF]:

Increasing traffic fines as the method to pay for transportation fund activities is a regressive increase that affects poor people disproportionately. Making safety improvements is obviously important, but not by increasing traffic fines.

“The governor’s framing is unfortunate,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. “We see it differently, because the revenue would have funded infrastructure to address the underlying problem of lack of safety near schools. We thought it was a positive way to achieve results.”

The bill originally would have doubled fines in school zones, similar to temporary fine zones instituted to protect workers in construction zones. However, that would have required local jurisdictions to post signs around schools warning of the double fines, and legislators said they didn’t want to impose the cost of new signs on school districts and cities.

Under the compromise passed by the legislature, the bill would have raised the base fines for violations by $35. That would have raised the current range of fines from $238 to $366 to between $273 and $410.

“We are really disappointed, obviously,” said Ward-Waller. “Especially after the legislature supported it unanimously.”

“Children are overwhelmingly the victims of car collisions near schools, especially in low-income communities where there are no safe sidewalks or bike lanes,” Bianca Taylor of TransForm wrote in a blog post. “As the cost of driving gets more expensive, we need to make sure that low-income neighborhoods have equal access to safe, affordable alternatives to cars, so that all children can safely get to school.”


March Transpo Committee Recap: SRTS, Counts, Parking and Commish Bayne

Yesterday’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee meeting featured a number of livability issues that deserve more in-depth attention: Safe Routes to School, bicycle and pedestrian traffic counts, parking privatization, and more. SBLA will do a brief re-cap, and will track and report on these issues more in the future.


Map of the Top 50 LAUSD Schools with most need for safer routes to school. From LADOT SRTS Fact Sheet. Click to view entire fact sheet.

The Top 50 List You Don’t Really Want Your School On: Department of Transportation (LADOT) staff reported on progress made in the city’s Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program. In the past, for a number of reasons, the city of L.A. has been unsuccessful at receiving its fair share of SRTS grant funding. LADOT’s two new pedestrian coordinators have done a lot of work to begin to remedy this: building relationships with LAUSD and using actual data to determine which schools make sense to prioritize. This Transportation Committee meeting was the first broad public vetting of the city’s new data-driven list of 50 schools with “greatest need.” The 50-school list will be used to target some city applications for the upcoming state Active Transportation Program (ATP) grant cycle.

Advocates from about a half-dozen non-profits commented on this item, urging two main requests: more LADOT resources be directed toward SRTS, and SRTS efforts be more open and collaborative.

Committee members expressed some concerns (see below) over the criteria behind the 50 school ranking, but accepted it, pending full council approval. They requested that LADOT return to the committee in 60 days (after this ATP cycle submission) to further examine the criteria.

Most Likely to be Undercounted and Undervalued: City councilmembers requested that LADOT review their traffic count methodology to include bicycle and pedestrian data. LADOT staff responded with a draft policy, including an annual count, which moves forward to a vote of the full city council. It’s unclear whether city counts will augment or replace those currently conducted by L.A. County Bicycle Coalition volunteers, though the Bike Coalition’s Eric Bruins voiced support for city counts, stating that the Coalition “wants to get out of this business.” Read more…


Will Los Angeles Ever Be a Safe Place for Kids? Meet the Women Charged with Creating Safe Routes to Schools

It is no secret that in America, and especially in Greater Los Angeles, too many children do not walk around their own neighborhoods. Whether it is fear of “stranger danger,” safety in the neighborhood, or the allure of electronic babysitting, many of today’s youth spend too much time indoors, and not enough doing something as simple as walking.

Margot Ocanas and Valerie Watson at the Southern California Safe Routes to School's Fall Convening 2012. Photo:Safe Routes California/Flickr

Today is the day that changes. For a couple of hours, children everywhere will be laughing and playing on the sidewalks. Meeting their neighbors. Extorting them for candy. For some children, this will be a unique experience. For others, it is just like every other day, except their clothes are cooler.

In an effort to combat this trend, Los Angeles is beginning to take the first steps, pardon the pun, to get children walking by encouraging more parents to have their children walk to school. After years of underperfoming when it came to earning state and federal Safe Routes to Schools’ grants, the city used a portion of its Measure R Local Return funds to modernize the city’s process of earning and delivering on these grants.

Earlier this year, the City of Los Angeles hired Margot Ocanas and Valerie Watson to be the city’s first official “pedestrian coordinator” and “assistant pedestrian coordinator.”

Both women come prepared for their new role with experiences from their professional and personal lives.

Ocanas, a former grant manager with the RENEW Program at the L.A. County Department of Public Health, was planning “open-street” block parties and organizing walking and bicycling school buses for her kids before pedestrian access became a profession. Watson, who previously worked as an urban planner at Melendrez and spent her free time advocating for the burgeoning Downtown Bike Network as a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Council.

While Ocanas and Watson started at LADOT when the issue of the city’s poor sidewalk repair was front page news, the focus of their positions is on improving the city’s Safe Routes to Schools Program. By rebuilding LADOT’s data gathering, review, and pedestrian toolbox for children, Ocanas and Watson believe they can make the city more responsive to the needs of all pedestrians.

“Our primary focus is on a Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan,” explains Ocanas. “It’s very much an umbrella strategic plan that forces a data driven prioritization process.” Previously, the city’s Safe Routes’ applications contained some data on recent crash history, estimates on the number and percentage of students who walk and bike to school, and anecdotal reports from parents and administrators.

“As we put that in place in the first year…we can leverage those processes and data gathering and methodologies to a more universal pedestrian segment,” she continues. Read more…

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SCAG Transportation Committee Meets to Discuss Regional Plan One Last Time

What make a good regional transportation plan?

This question has become a complicated one in recent years as a new legislative mandate requires that the regional bodies responsible for creating these plans, plans which decide the funding direction for large parts of the state, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and again by 2035.  We’ve already seen how a plan hailed for its progressiveness upon passage by the San Diego Association of Governments now finds itself in court, with the state’s attorney siding with the plaintiffs.

The current round of regional plans will direct funding until 2050 and are the first ones passed since the passage of the state’s greenhouse gas reduction law in 2008.

Soon the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) will have its chance to finalize a regional plan.  An important step in that process will happen later this morning, when SCAG’s Transportation Committee meets to discuss the plan for the last time before it’s 83 member board of directors votes on the plan next month.  Rarely does SCAG meetings or plans attract as much attention, but, spurred by the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, Move L.A. and local groups such as VC Cool, hundreds of people have commented on the plan either asking for greater investment in transit, or active transportation.

This has led to two camps forming within transportation reformers.  On one hand, Move L.A. is praising the plan with few conditions.  An op/ed by Move L.A.’s Gloria Ohland (also a Streetsblog contributor) lays out the positives of the plan.  Ohland’s full piece appears at the end of this article: Read more…


Pedestrian Tragedy in the Valley, Again!

This picture was taken blocks from Tuesday's tragic crash. Where oh where would students get the idea that it is ok to walk in the street? Photos: Stephen Box Captions:Damien Newton

This past Tuesday, early in the afternoon, 11-year-old twin sisters Sydney and Alexis left Walter Reed Middle School and began to walk home, a trip that ended at Colfax Avenue and Moorpark Street when they were hit by a car as they attempted to cross the street.

By all rights, it was a tragic afternoon for everybody.

For the young girls, it was a tragedy that began when they were violently propelled into the air, hit so hard they were knocked out of their shoes. They landed in a bone breaking heap, one unconscious and the other screaming in pain, and were quickly transported to Children’s Hospital where one still lies in critical condition.

For the 82-year-old motorist, it was a tragedy that will forever haunt her, regardless of rules of the road or outcome of the LAPD investigation, forever lingering as “that moment” when time stood still. This motorist will be haunted by the image of two young girls flying through the air and lying broken in the street.

For the school children who witnessed the collision, it was a tragedy that required instant intervention from parents and school administrators. Their lives were disrupted, they were confronted with mortality, they were shocked by the fragility of life, and they were confronted by the primacy of motor vehicles.

For the parents of local school children, it was a tragedy that destroyed their hopes and dreams of living in a walkable, livable community. It was confirmation that their children aren’t safe on the streets in the immediate vicinity of their local middle school.

For the Firemen who raced to the scene, it was a tragedy that is all too common, picking up bodies from the streets of Los Angeles after a traffic collision. It must eat at their soul and the Daily News picture from the scene of a policeman consoling a fireman is evidence of the toll traffic takes on our First Responders. Read more…


It’s Time to Get Serious About Bicycle Education

From childhood, we are constantly being taught the rules of the road. We’ve seen siblings get speeding tickets, heard parents honk at discourteous drivers, and read about tragedies caused by drunk and distracted driving. By the time we are old enough to enroll in a driver’s education course and apply for a driver’s license, we are already familiar with driving laws, safe practices and etiquette.

  • Bicycle Rodeos are a great start, but cyclists (and drivers) need continual education for everyone's sake. This rodeo picture from Glendale last May and via the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition

    Unfortunately, most of this experience only teaches us how to use our streets as motorists. Those who roll out of their driveways for the first time on two wheels confront a host of issues they never considered previously:

  • How do I turn left at this daunting intersection?
  • Why do some motorists try to pass just before stop signs?
  • How can I discourage motorists from passing too closely in the same lane?
  • And so many more.

The problem is the lack of accessible, informed and comprehensive education regarding the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists. Few of us receive adequate instruction before getting behind the handlebars or the steering wheel and navigating the streets of Los Angeles. Schools rarely offer bicycling courses by certified instructors. Those who teach drivers’ education courses only briefly refer to bicyclists, instead of informing students of bicyclists’equal right to use the road.

To complicate matters, the minimal bicycle education we do receive is often erroneous — especially when it comes from friends and authority figures who lack training and personal experience on a bicycle. Parents, teachers and police officers are wise to teach children to wear helmets, use lights at night, stop at red lights and look “left, right, left” before crossing a street. But counseling a bicyclist to “stay on the sidewalk” or “stay as far to the right as possible” is misguided. Door zones and blind spots are paved with good intentions. Read more…


Public Health Student Stephanie Hopp: With a Growing Effort Toward Safe Routes to Schools, Why Not Safe Routes to Universities?

Stephanie Hopp is a fourth year student at Union College studying Biology, Environmental Science and Spanish. She is actively involved in biking, health, and environmental protection and plans to pursue a Masters in Public Health following her undergraduate education.   

With gas prices reaching nearly five dollars per gallon and university tuitions on the rise, getting to and around school seems to be the easiest way to make a college student go broke fast. Since I plan to pursue a Masters in Public Heath after this year, and an online public health program is not an option for me, I need to save where I can. As a college intern spending my summer conducting public health research at UCLA, I am left with little choice when it comes to my commute each day—either spend too much money on gas and parking, or find an alternative, such as biking, walking, or using public transportation.

UCLA has a walking club that programs the annual I <heart> walking week. Photo:UCLA Today

With Los Angeles’ largely sprawled out development patterns, it is not feasible for me to walk places in a timely manner, and public transportation in my neighborhood is infrequent. The built environment of Los Angeles has made any mode of transportation other than utilizing one’s own vehicle very difficult; most daily commuters are left with only one practical alternative: bicycling. So I began biking the 45-minute commute to work each day, happily saving money and getting daily exercise in a zero-emission fashion. Through my daily journey, I began to notice things I would have never otherwise perceived—the intense warmth of the Southern California summer, the aroma of freshly cut grass on nearby lawns I cycle past, and the many bike racks scattered throughout the city, which I never before knew existed.

While cycling on busy roads such as Sunset Boulevard and Beverly Glen is the fastest route to UCLA, it is far too dangerous with hundreds of cars speeding through each hour. Large potholes forced me to circumnavigate my way into traffic, and the lighting under bridges and overpasses was scarce, making me nearly invisible to rapidly approaching cars. While the road ought to be shared equally, without a designated area for cyclists, I felt as though I was intruding on the cars’ road.

This summer, my friend, Debbie Schrimmer, an avid cyclist and student at the University of California Davis reminded me, “bicycling in itself is not inherently dangerous—it’s when cyclists are forced to interact with cars that it becomes dangerous.” So I searched to find more alternatives to avoid traffic. Luckily for me, side streets were easily accessible from my neighborhood that I am now able to get around the bustling boulevards and whizzing cars and make it to UCLA safely, with only a few “almost accidents”.

But what about the countless other students in large cities who have jobs, internships, and attend classes, and who must commute on a daily basis? Those who do not have access to back roads or public transportation are left with only one choice–to use their cars. Stuck in their own “boxes” each day, each single-rider contributing to daily freeway traffic and air pollution, getting limited exercise, and spending preposterous amounts of money on gasoline. Being in a car for several hours each day robs people of precious time to exercise. Physical inactivity is associated with serious health problems such as coronary heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Read more…


When Safe Routes to School Is About More than Bike Lanes and Sidewalks

John M, Liechty Middle School. It doesn't look like a great place to walk to...yet...

What do you do when the main barrier to encouraging more students to walk and bicycle to school isn’t social pressures or broken infrastructure, but a different sort of public safety hazard?  What do you do when it’s not motorists, but gangs that imperil children who want to walk or bike to school?

If you work with the Advancement Project, and you’re working in South Los Angeles’ Westlake Neighborhood and Belmont Community, you get the community involved, you get the police involved, and you make a plan.

Working with 21 different community groups, advocacy groups and government organizations, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the Advancement Project worked to create a map that showed what challenges face students walking to school and create a safe corridors program to address those needs.

“Our role has been to coordinate the amazing assets, programs and services already existing in the community,” explains Maribel Meza, a policy advocate with the advancement project.  “It has been a grassroots, community driven effort.”

The first step of the project was to complete basic outreach to partners and communities to identify three areas to work on as part of the Project’s efforts in Westlake.  Two of those programs had to do with creating safe passages for children to walk or bike to school and other places of interest.  Next, meetings were held with all the stakeholders, including students and their parents, to create a mapping analysis.  The mapping analysis created showed results that you probably wouldn’t see in Santa Monica, identifying not just places where students would be imperiled by poor urban design but also gang recruiters or even angry alcoholics.

Meanwhile, the LAPD, parents, and gang interventionists and parents agreed to patrols on the most problematic routes for student travelers.  Areas that had the highest risk would be patrolled by the LAPD, while areas of lesser but still significant challenge would be patrolled by volunteer parents before and after school.

With the routes selected and parents on board, the program will launch later this month when the school year begins.

The aforementioned coalition began work on a Safe Routes to Schools grant for John M. Liechty Middle School to bring a strong pedestrian infrastructure to the area, including better street lighting, sidewalks and road crossings.  The lighting is especially important for students taking part in after school programs who often find themselves traveling home in the dark.  If selected by Caltrans, it would bring $1 million to the area to improve connections to the school. Read more…


Best Practices: Bike It! Day in Santa Monica

In the fall of 2007, a pair of high school students in Santa Monica High School (Samohi), decided to organize their own Bike to School Day.  Somewhere between 80 and 100 high school students took part that first year, which is a respectable number for a student-run event with no budget, but nobody could have0for seen what’s happened since.

To see last spring's flyer in English and Spanish, click here.

In 2008, the event doubled in size.  In 2009, so many students walked or biked to school, that the school’s bike racks were overflowing not just on what was then called Bike It! day, but everyday and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District vowed better bike facilities.  In 2010, Bike It spread to schools throughout Santa Monica and in June the event (the event is held twice annually in the Fall and Spring) had over 3,300 students from thirteen different schools around Santa Monica.

“Since 2007 it’s grown into a bigger success with just about half of the school participating,” explains Charlotte Biren, co-president of the Samohi Solar Alliance, a super-group that is responsible for solar panels warming the school pool and for programming Bike It! .  “We’ve also expanded the program into walking, and taking the bus.”

Santa Monica doesn’t have a school bus program, increasing the pressure on parents to drive students to schools, so a Bike to School Day is an important exercise to show parents, and students, what is possible.

“Simply putthe goal is to get people out of their cars,” adds Jenna Perelman,  the other Solar Alliance co-president.

100 students is good enough to get the attention of the local school board.  3,300 is enough to get the attention of the President.  This summer, the Office of President Barack Obama awarded Biren and Perelman an Official Presidential Commendation for their work programming Bike It! Read more…