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SD #71 - Sheila McDonnell

As you know, I’ve been involved in the Active Travel to School initiative from its beginning. As chair of the then SD71 transportation Committee, I believed our mandate was bigger than busing. By reaching out to the Cycling Task Force and building a great partnership with the municipalities, school district and community members like yourself, I think we’ve made a difference to how safe neighbourhood routes are being looked at for cyclists and walkers of all ages. We know that active travel and reduced reliance on cars are important for student health and school success. HASTE BC started as a way to reduce poor air quality caused by idling around schools; we now understand the importance of daily activity to reduce obesity and get young brains working. I’m happy that the district is continuing to support this and, that we are collectively shifting the focus from cycling only to the Go Smart concept of safe choices for everybody. The schools are a great way to build support and buy in for less car travel and to raise a new generation who are competent and committed to cycling. It’s been a great pleasure to work with the Cycling coalition, Ed, James, Chris, Angela and all the volunteers who put so much effort into making a better experience for our students. I’m glad Active Travel will be continuing, and I’m thinking about how we can develop a strategy to get more high school students using active travel. We do have many staff who ride, include cycling in curriculum and support afterschool activities. I’m the Trustee Cheerleader for all of this.

Beyond this program, I have expressed concerns about how our programming impacts traffic. While I wouldn’t want to make academic plans based on reducing car trips, other factors being equal, I support having as many students as possible attending schools within walk and ride limits. Our “programs of choice’, like French immersion and NIDES, require parents to get students to school themselves. We did a review that really highlighted the problems, but left them unanswered. I think we need to go back and revisit that policy and look for fresh ideas. I’m a huge supporter of community schools and smaller, neighbourhood schools. Especially with our new approach to self-directed learning and technology support, I wonder why we are busing so many students in 10-12 from Cumberland and Lake Trail area to Vanier. What could we do if we diverted the cost of 3 or 4 buses and portables at Vanier into programing in those schools? And I really believe that district programs, like the IClass or FAE (Fine Arts Academy) should be central and on transit routes. Individually driving children around the district is not great in my mind. It’s a trade-off- how can we get those specialized programs out to more kids in their home schools and get both benefits?

Linking our bus program with the Regional Transit system is also on my radar. We spend a lot of money to get students to and from schools 5 days a week on specific routes at specific times. When our bus policy was set, there was no regional bus system at all. I’m pleased that our Operations Manager and the CVRD people have been working together to synchronize some routes, but I’d like to look at whether we could integrate our secondary school busing needs. Some sort of school pass using our bus budget as a base could give students a bus pass they can use system-wide all week. What a benefit to the valley to have a generation of students getting the bus/bike habit! I will be encouraging this approach – maybe a provincial pilot project- as we head to our next contract tendering. If we have to start high school a little later to shift student demand off-peak time, well, that would solve the problem of the shift in teenage circadian rhythyms.

For transportation in general, I support the priority to put bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks, trails and linkages in place to improve the range of safe travel experiences. I learned Urban Geography Truth 101 back in 1975- “Wider streets will NEVER solve traffic congestion”; we do know what will and we just need to put our engineering budget to changes that will make cycling and walking better – and wow- better for drivers too. It was a great shame, for instance, that the widening of Lerwick did not include forward-thinking planning for school access; within a fairly short time, I predict we will be rebuilding that street from Comox to the Hospital with bike lanes, intersection islands and other complete streets “best practices”. And the Active Travel Planning process for Valley View, Isfeld and Queenesh may be leading the way.

Thanks for your leadership and commitment to a healthy valley.
Sheila McDonnell

Reader Comments (1)

An interesting and provocative response filled with ideas - by someone who seems to really know her subject.

November 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Reddekop

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