Woodland student celebrating Bike to School Day in May 2022

Riding, walking, and arithmetic: Olathe school prepares for 400 new neighbors by getting back to the basics

Woodland Elementary in Olathe, KS faces a challenge: After school traffic jams are a headache, and they are about to get much worse. Their enrollment is projected to nearly double in the coming years with the construction of over 400 single family homes in their attendance boundary.  

The new homes are physically close to Woodland Elementary - some even share a fence with school grounds - while others are within one-half mile. This should make it easy to walk or ride bikes to school. Unfortunately, the subdivision isn’t designed to provide a safe, direct walk to the neighborhood school, and many families may choose to drive their kids to school anyway. 

This is where BikeWalkKC comes in. Olathe Public Schools requested our Community Planning and Education teams conduct an Arrival and Dismissal Analysis, and a review of the proposed subdivision’s walkability. 

Woodland Elementary’s concern is simple: if attendance nearly doubles (alongside the additional staff and teachers necessary to support this growth) and most of these students choose to drive, the arrival and dismissal process as it currently operates will be non functional and unsafe. 

Wide streets are hard to cross safely

With some help from Kaw Valley Engineering, and after observing Woodland’s arrival and dismissal procedures in April 2022, BikeWalkKC provided simple and action-oriented recommendations to improve traffic circulation in the short term. With paint and traffic cones, Woodland Elementary can increase stacking capacity on site to alleviate the congestion along Woodland Road. For long term solutions, Woodland Elementary and Olathe Public Schools must tackle the root cause of the dangerous congestion: most families drive their kids to school even if they live in the neighborhood.

But why? When surveyed, parents cited safety as the number one concern. Woodland Elementary, like many schools in Olathe, is surrounded by high speed, high volume roads. Without stoplights and safe crossing opportunities along these corridors, parents feel more comfortable driving their students to school. Who can blame them? 

Wide streets are difficult to cross safely

Infrastructure improvements would make the biggest impact for parents, children, and school staff concerned about safety near Woodland Elementary, but big City Hall-led projects are challenging because they require time, coordination, and funding. Changes to streets and sidewalks are long-term goals.

In the meantime, Woodland Elementary has an opportunity to begin a culture change! Parents and teachers alike noted that the school could do more to encourage students and families to walk or bike. Four key recommendations for the school to consider include: 

  • Integrate walking and biking education into school curriculum. Many students don’t know how to stay safe when walking or biking to school. Teaching students how to ride a bike safely and confidently and how to chart a safe path to school makes kids safer, and also helps them develop independence and self-reliance. 
  • Organize walking school buses. A group of kids walking together is more visible than one child walking alone. School-, neighborhood-, or family-led “walking school buses” could help kids stay safe because the students are walking as a group.
  • Host more bike to school events. Woodland Elementary threw a newsworthy Bike to School party this spring, and more than 80 students rode to school! Similar events can help make walking or biking to school the “fun” transportation option.
  • Beat the weather. Several parents indicated that weather is a deterrent in walking or biking their child to school. Storms and extreme temperatures may be driving days, but there are plenty of sunny, pleasant days that are perfect for walking or biking! We recommend families watch the forecast and make the most of good weather.

Research shows that more kids walking or biking (or rollerskating, or scooting…) to school improves neighborhood air quality, makes streets safer, and helps children develop strong social skills and healthy bodies. Woodland Elementary is taking the first step to making their community a safer and happier place, and we are honored to be a part of the change they are creating.

Walk, Bike, and Roll to School Day is October 12

Is your school celebrating? It's not too late to start planning! Visit www.walkbiketoschool.org to see which local schools are participating and get inspiration for your own activities.

Posted in Bicycling, BikeWalkKC News, Johnson County, Local, News, Planning, Safe Routes to School, Walking and tagged , , , , .