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Improving Pedestrian Safety Through Walkable Campus Design

Improving Pedestrian Safety Through Walkable Campus Design

As WalkBoston discovered in our work with communities across Massachusetts, even when communities build new schools in the right place, the design of school campuses still provides only limited support for walkers, and too often favors vehicles over walkers in their site layout.

Walking rarely enters the conversation when new schools are planned. In fact, the regulatory and approval  processes focus on facilitating bus and automobile access to schools, and ensuring that there is sufficient parking. Public meetings are usually dominated by those who complain about traffic volumes or inadequate parking – not by those who seek a safe walking route to school. It happens in wealthy communities and low-income communities alike. In most cases, it’s not that drivers are given priority over walkers, it’s that nobody is thinking about walking. And that needs to change.

School campuses need to welcome children arriving by foot, bike, bus, and car. Too often, a student walking to school is confronted with traffic congestion, unsafe crossings and a circuitous route to the front door. As documented by the Safe Routes to School movement, children who travel by “active transportation modes” are more likely to get the physical activity they need every day, arrive at school ready to learn, and gain independence through mastery over their own environment.

Since 2002, when the National Trust for Historic Preservation published their influential report “Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School,” educators, community activists, and school committees across the country have made progress both in choosing walkable, central locations for new schools, and in realizing the benefits of either renovating, retrofitting, or expanding existing neighborhood schools. Communities have begun to:

  • Reinvest in existing school properties before seeking new campuses,
  • Relax acreage and building square footage requirements for new schools to allow smaller, centrally located sites to be considered, and
  • Choose locations for new schools in existing neighborhoods where pedestrian infrastructure already exists

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