In order for any community planning process to succeed regular updates on progress, knowledge gained and connections made must be provided. The Safe Routes to School Project currently underway in KCMO’s Kansas City Public School District (KCPS) has been underway since late last fall (November 2014) and has made great strides since that time. This will be the first of many regular (monthly) updates on this project moving forward over the next year and a half.
As many reading this post may be aware, BikeWalkKC was generously awarded a two year grant by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City to work exclusively with KCPS on a long-term, policy focused, community planning Safe Routes to School project. While the traditional Safe Routes “5 E’s” approach (Education, Engineering, Enforcement, Encouragement, and Evaluation) to this Safe Routes project is integral, the “6th E” – Equity – is this project’s centerpiece. The concept of equity through the lens of this Safe Routes project means that ground-level community engagement is first and foremost. Only by taking the lead from those who live, work, visit and care for the neighborhoods this project works in will any credibility be given to or attention be paid to our Safe Routes plans. This community driven participatory planning effort will hopefully result in tangible engineering, programmatic and policy recommendations, but more importantly will start a sustained conversation about the importance and implementability of active and safe transportation.
Simply stated our project aims to help students walk or bike to school and live more actively in their day to day lives. If students are safe walking to and from school then parents, workers and other community members will be safe walking to and from places in the neighborhoods near our project schools. Our project asks what is working well now, what improvements may be needed and what resources are available to improve the neighborhood experience of walking and biking.
To achieve this goal and work towards community driven solutions we first had to get schools on board. With the help of KCPS district staff, school principals and others we have successfully committed six neighborhood elementary schools to work with us in this endeavor throughout the term of this project! As of this blog post (and the remainder of this spring semester) we are working with Garcia, Garfield, James, Gladstone, Whittier and Attucks elementary schools. During the summer and as the new 2015/16 school year approaches we hope to add more KCPS schools to our project.
Each of the above mentioned schools has signed on to our Safe Routes project. Now we are in the process of coalition building (for lack of a better phrase) by introducing the project to as wide an audience as possible. Here’s who we have reached in building support and will continue to work with:
- School District personnel and transportation officials
- Local school administration, staff and parent liaisons
- LINC (Local Investment Commission) partners (LINC coordinates and staffs before and after school programs in KCPS)
- Parents & students through after school events, parent nights, BikeWalk BLAST and Earn-a-Bike programs
- City of Kansas City, Missouri Partners, including the City’s Bike/Ped Coordinator, City Planning staff, and Neighborhood Services staff
- Kansas City Police Department
- Mattie Rhodes Center
- Westside Community Action Network Center
- Indian Mound Neighborhood Association
In the coming months of this project BikeWalk staff and interns will conduct school arrival and dismissal observations, attend school based and community events, and will continue to collect data to inform this project. Most importantly we will continue to connect with local groups and persons interested in a sustained conversation about active and safe transportation in these wonderful neighborhoods.
If you are interested in becoming involved with this project and would like to volunteer your time to help with observations, staff events at schools or in the community, etc. please contact me directly. To add, if you know of community organizations or influential people I should reach out to, please email me your ideas! I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Much thanks to the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the Kansas City Public School District for making this project happen. I’m encouraged by our progress thus far and look forward to an exciting remainder of the project!
Joe Blankenship is BikeWalkKC’s SRTS Planner. He holds a master’s degree in urban planning from the Pratt Institute and specializes in community based planning.