A school site walkabout is a tour of a school and its grounds that looks at how well a school supports – or challenges – walking and cycling. Using a pre-determined route, participants explore and discuss challenges to active and safe routes to school and identify changes or opportunities that could address them.
Many schools throughout North America, particularly older schools in urban areas, were designed and constructed when driving students to school was much less common. More recently, many schools have been designed or renovated to accommodate high rates of driving students to school, often without regard for the comfort and safety of students and families who walk or cycle. A school site walkabout is a chance for the school community to review how well set up a school and its grounds are to accommodate and receive students and families who walk or cycle to school. It can help identify the challenges that walking families face in getting to school – or that are keeping families from walking – and spark ideas on how to overcome them.
Parents and administrators are the default participants in a school site walkabout. However, making a walkabout broader and more inclusive can have a number of benefits:
- Students: Even if an adult accompanies them to school, students will have their own experiences and perspectives on their trip.
- School District: District staff, especially from Facilities or Grounds departments, are both a source of expertise and potentially action through their professional roles or connections.
- Municipal Staff: Engineers, planners and park staff can bring technical expertise and a broader perspective to issues identified during the walkabout, especially with respect to connections or barriers between the school and the surrounding community.
- Law Enforcement: police and bylaw officers can help identify safety issues and bring a law enforcement perspective to the table.
- Community Stakeholders: individuals and groups from the community may bring their own agenda to a walkabout, but those interested in transportation issues in the neighbourhood will often have valuable insights and experiences to contribute.
Before organizing your walkabout, reach out to your school community to learn about transportation issues and concerns that face other walking and cycling families. In-person conversations, and sending a survey home through the school or PAC, are both good ways to gather information from parents. Talk to your administrator, as they are the person to whom most parents will address their concerns, and review all sides of the school building and grounds that can be accessed by students and families. Particular issues to keep in mind on your walkabout include:
- School-site access: the school site should be accessible on all sides from which walking and cycling families can approach it. Access should be at a minimum possible – but preferably practical and comfortable. Good accessibility can facilitate active travel – but can also help distribute drop-off activity.
- Potential conflicts: school zones can be uncomfortable and potentially unsafe places if different families using different travel modes are not aware of one another or effectively separated.
- Pedestrian pathways: like access points, pathways should facilitate pedestrian access to and travel through the school site. Poor on-site facilities can be a barrier to active travel.
- Bicycle parking facilities: visible, high-quality bicycle parking promotes cycling: the presence of attractive, convenient and effective bicycle parking invites cyclists to destinations.
If possible, organize your walkabout to correspond with the period just before or after the school day in order to observe how pedestrians, cyclists and drivers interact at and around the school. While adverse weather can make the walkabout a less pleasant event, it often helps to expose challenges that present themselves when conditions around the school are at their worst.