COMMENT: New high school brings an opportunity to promote walking and cycling

Kids participate in a CAN-BIKE course in Ottawa, 2014. Photo courtesy of Hans Moor.

(PHOTO: Kids participate in a CAN-BIKE course in Ottawa. File photo courtesy of Hans Moor.)

“Stittsville is small enough that many teens now and in the future should be within walking and cycling distance of the new school. To make that possible, we need high quality sidewalks and intersections connecting to school. We need right-of-way for pedestrians at roundabouts. We need pathways, plowed in winter and lit in the early morning and evening to get to places.”


Congratulations to the parents and students who championed a public high school in Stittsville. The school is long overdue. Teens spending their time being bused out to Richmond weren’t being given the same opportunities for after-school activities, or for the extra morning sleep teens seem to require.

To be healthy, kids need physical activity. One of the easiest ways to stay active is to make it part of the daily trip to school. In this moment, Stittsville has a fantastic opportunity to be one of the first in the region to purposefully design safe routes for walking and cycling to school. This will provide much-needed independence for teens… and for their parents, too. No more need to shuttle kids to school.

Last summer, Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, released a report on designing for healthy living. One disturbing finding: only 22% of boys and 10% of girls in Grade 10 were physically active every day for at least 60 minutes. That is not good enough. However, there is tremendous potential to help Canadians live longer and healthier lives, just by how we design our built environment. The key is to design opportunities for physical activity right into the fabric of our cities.

ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION DECREASING AMONG TEENS
Tam writes that many Canadian students are not using active transportation, such as walking and cycling: “A survey of Canadian parents in 2012 showed that 58% walked to school as children while 28% of their own children walk to school today. Distance and safety are two key factors – children are more likely to use active transportation if their school is nearby and the route to get there is safe.”

Stittsville is small enough that many teens now and in the future should be within walking and cycling distance of the new school. To make that possible, we need high quality sidewalks and intersections connecting to school. We need right-of-way for pedestrians at roundabouts. We need pathways, plowed in winter and lit in the early morning and evening to get to places. We need high-quality bike parking at schools, and at bus stops for those who live a bit further away. We also need to improve on safe driving near schools: last spring, the Ottawa Police handed out 500 speeding tickets in school zones (!)  in the first five days after spring break.

A CLEAN SLATE
It doesn’t happen too often that the school board and the City can start with a clean slate. This is the ideal time to create an environment so well-connected and safe that active transportation becomes second nature for the many children who will attend this school in the generations to come. Healthy teens today will be more likely to be healthy adults tomorrow, and we all want the best life for our kids. Let’s strive to build not just a new Stittsville high school, but to build an active and healthy future for the children of Stittsville.

(Bike Ottawa is a 100% volunteer run organization working on improving safe cycling for everyone. Founded in 1984, the group has hundreds of members and volunteers. In 2014 Bike Ottawa received the Mayor’s Office City Builder Award for its efforts to improve traffic safety in the Nation’s Capital.)


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