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Wise walking the way to go, says transport expert

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Beating the feet – wise walking the way to go, says transport expert

It’s fun, free and healthy – and Auckland students are also finding walking to school gives them the chance to try their hand at town planning.

Over 50 Auckland schools are part of the Auckland Schools Travel Plan Programme, an Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) initiative to get kids to beat their feet instead of buckling their seatbelts for the trip to and from school.

ARTA’s Manager of Sustainable Transport, Anna Percy will be talking about the initiative at the New Zealand School Trustees Association Conference being held in Auckland this week. She says the programme is also giving students the chance to design safe travel routes to the neighbourhood school – and they have a lot of fun doing it.

“One aspect of designing a travel plan is getting students to design a map of their school’s neighbourhood. They can draw in all the hazards that need to be removed to make walking to schools safer.

“This is really important in getting more children walking or cycling to school. The number of primary school children walking to school in Auckland has dropped to just 33%, down from 67% 10 years ago.”

More than 600 delegates (tbc) are attending the conference, which has the theme Celebration of Governance – Where all Kids Achieve, and runs from June 30 to July 3.

“When we survey the students, we draw a huge map of the neighbourhood with their school in the middle. The kids can add their houses to it, and add things like roads that are unsafe to cross, walkways that are overgrown, even unfriendly dogs.

“Lots of people at a school will have an issue with one thing, so that helps to sort out priorities. We also survey staff, the parents, and we run focus groups.”

Sometimes the issues can be easy to solve, and may be as simple as cutting back vegetation on an overgrown walkway, she says.

“With busy roads, it can take some time to get a pedestrian crossing put in. But if council agrees, it is put on the list and worked through.”

“People tend to think driving is safer, but if that were the case, there would be fewer crashes – and there are not.”

Intermediate and secondary students use the Auckland Regional Council’s (ARC’s) computer software programme (GIS) to map and understand their own travel options.

Anna Percy says while children who walk safely to school enjoy it – in addition to getting exercise – there are also benefits for the whole community.

“It’s lovely going to a travel plan school. Greenhithe School encouraged all its children to walk or cycle on the day it launched its travel plan, and the streets were filled with laughing children. The kids were having such a ball. That, to me, is what a community is all about.”

While in some instances driving children to school is the safest or most practical option, Anna Percy says getting children to walk or cycle to school is part of a regional plan to ease traffic in Auckland.

“The Auckland Regional Transport Authority is saying it is time for Aucklanders to work collectively to get around our problems.

“We are doing these travel plans for the impacts they will have on our road safety and congestion and also because, like everyone else, we want happier and healthier kids.”

Anna Percy says after an initial pilot involving three North Shore schools in 2003, the Auckland Schools Travel Plan Programme has grown to include 53 schools, with 90 expected to be on board by 2006.

The annual conference is being opened by Auckland Mayor Dick Hubbard, while Minister of Education Trevor Mallard will also address the delegates.

ENDS

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