The Georgia Bikes Blog

School siting issues in Georgia

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:

  1. Eliminate Minimum Acreage Requirements and Set Maximum Acreage Limits
  2. Eliminate Minimum School Size Requirements
  3. Make Site Selection a Local Decision Involving the Public, and
  4. 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.

Contact:

Clara J. Keith
Deputy Superintendent Policy & External Affairs

2062 Twin Towers East
205 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive SE
Atlanta, GA 30334 
(404) 651-7562 
(404) 656-0966 
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

p.s. Don’t forget next month’s Ride to the Capitol- March 22nd. Register today!

Economics internship available

Are you an economics undergraduate or grad student enrolled in an accredited institution in Georgia (or do you know one)?

If so, and if you are interested in bicycling facilities and how to best determine their economic impact on Georgia's communities, please apply for our spring 2011 internship! We are seeking an intern to develop a predictive economic tool for determining the benefit of investment in bicycle infrastructure.

To apply or obtain more information, send your resume & a brief statement of interest to our Executive Director.

Please note that this this internship is unpaid.

Response to GA Ports Authority comments

In a recent story from SavannahNow.com concerning the debate over deepening Savannah’s harbor, some unfortunate and misguided comments were made by Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

Defending the controversial, $550 million project, Foltz says, "This is not infrastructure for a water park or a bicycle path." He adds, "This is infrastructure that is absolutely necessary for the nation."

While we sympathize with the issues GPA faces (bicycling facilities are an integral component of the transportation infrastructure yet struggle with persistent public misunderstanding on their perceived value and importance), Foltz’s implication is clear: bicycle facilities are frivolous.

We couldn’t disagree more, and a wide variety of data supports the need for increased investment in bicycling infrastructure, especially in Georgia.

Grouping bicycle facilities with “water parks” is particularly wrong-headed, since water parks serve no transportation function (except perhaps to create summer-time traffic issues at the gate). A network of interconnected paved and un-paved trails, bicycle lanes, and “bicycle paths,” on the other hand, can have a profound impact on two problematic issues in Georgia: the economy and public health.

Economically, investment in bicycle infrastructure is forward-thinking and business savvy. Bicycling facilities are a proven economic development tool. As economic data from Oregon, Colorado, and North Carolina clearly demonstrates, expanded bicycle facilities yield high returns in terms of job creation, tourism, and real estate values. Many businesses want to locate in areas with a high quality of life, and all communities with a consistently high rank in quality of life have extensive bicycle and pedestrian accommodations. Bicycle tourism is also growing, as Roswell, GA, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and other communities across the country are learning. Building “bike paths” builds economic opportunity and long-term prosperity for Georgia.

From a public health perspective, Georgians are in dire need of active transportation options. 27% of Georgians are considered obese. The ultimate cost of obesity and its attendant chronic health problems is borne by Georgia’s taxpayers. Comprehensively planned and implemented bicycling & pedestrian infrastructure improvements cost a fraction of highway (and harbor) projects but result in long-term reductions in health care costs. Trails and greenways also serve as affordable family recreation opportunities, providing access to all ages and skill levels. Active transportation choices lead to healthier individuals and stronger families.

Georgia currently ranks 35th in the nation for its bicycle “friendliness,” according to the League of American Bicyclists. This ranking incorporates infrastructure investment levels, and Georgia has fallen four spots since 2009. Comments like Foltz’s reinforce this sad state of affairs, where our citizens are locked into a single transportation option, deprived of opportunities for physical activity, and often forced to build sprawling communities that lack a sense of community and will continue to lose property value.

We call on Mr. Foltz to clarify his comments and assert the importance and necessity of bicycling infrastructure in a robust, healthy, economically sustainable transportation system.


Seed Grants

Are you a new bicycling advocacy organization in Georgia? Could you use $1,500?

Georgia Bikes is pleased to announce the availability of ten $1,500 "seed grants," which will assist new and emerging nonprofit bicycling advocacy organizations in Georgia. To be eligible, applicants must meet the following criteria:

1) Organization must be based in Georgia.

2) Organization must be a newly formed bicycle advocacy organization or advisory committee (formed in 2008 or later).

3) Organization must actively promote bicycle safety and road sharing in Georgia.

Submission deadline for the first round of grant awards was December 31st, 2010, 5:00 PM EST.

A Georgia Bikes Grant Review Committee will determine grant recipients. Award announcements for the first round of grants will be made by January 15, 2011. A second round of applications will be opened in the spring of 2011. If you have any questions, please email us.

Funding for these grants is being provided by the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, using money raised from the "Share the Road" specialty car tag. Support better cycling in Georgia and buy yours when you renew your tag!

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  1. GOHS Grant Awarded

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