Last Updated: Friday, 23 August 2013 14:57
Written by Admin
You may fondly remember fall afternoons, walking with friends or riding your fleet-wheeled Schwinn home from school. You felt free, independent, and fit.
Unfortunately, the notion of walking or biking to school is growing dimmer and less conceivable as our schools are being built in places that prohibit safe travel by foot or by bicycle. Why is that? How did it happen?
Thanks to funds from the EPA & National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Helping Johnny Walk to School” grant, Georgia Bikes’ consultant John Kissane has uncovered answers to these questions.
Essentially, current school siting policies guarantee that schools will be built in isolated, exclusively car-accessible locations. Community-centered schools, on the other hand, enable walking and biking to school. Among his other key findings:
- Property values near a community-centered school tend to be higher than average;
- Community-centered schools require less bus travel, generating economic & health benefits;
- Renovating existing schools is more economical than demolishing old buildings.
Presently, Georgia’s acreage requirements for schools are:
- 5 acres + 1 acre for every 100 students for elementary schools
- 12 acres + 1 acre for every 100 students for middle schools, and
- 20 acres + 1 acre for every 100 students for high schools.
These minimum acreage policies have a range of negative consequences, including the relocation of schools away from existing population centers and neighborhoods and additional financial burdens on rural communities. Growing populations and new school construction in low-density areas requires public schools to shoulder significant financial responsibility for adequate transportation.
Siting schools in areas only accessible by automobile also ensures the creation of sprawl and cuts off any active transportation choices that would encourage physical activity for Georgia’s school children. Given Georgia’s high rates of weight-related health issues and rising transportation costs, we can no longer afford to build our schools in inaccessible, car-dependent locations. Georgia needs to prioritize transportation options, especially near its schools.
After assessing Georgia’s school siting policies, Mr. Kissane offers these achievable solutions and recommendations:
- Eliminate Minimum Acreage Requirements and Set Maximum Acreage Limits
- Eliminate Minimum School Size Requirements
- Make Site Selection a Local Decision Involving the Public, and
- Utilize Existing School Facilities to their Full Advantage through Renovation
The best way to encourage a life-long love of cycling and other physical activity among children is to create opportunities for these activities in their day-to-day lives. If we allow the creation of isolated, car-dependent schools, kids will never experience those joyful afternoon walks and rides home. Please contact your local school board and, more importantly, the state Department of Education, and let them know that current school siting policies lead to less healthy children and communities. A shift in how we locate our schools (and other developments) can make tremendous improvements in our quality of life, economy, health, and environment.
Clara J. Keith
Deputy Superintendent Policy & External Affairs
2062 Twin Towers East
205 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive SE
Atlanta, GA 30334
p.s. Don’t forget next month’s Ride to the Capitol- March 22nd. Register today!