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Did You Know?

Half of school children walked or biked to school in 1969, but only 13 percent were doing it in 2009.

Re-thinking school transportation

Yesterday, we blogged about Governor Quinn’s proposed budget, which included a large cut in school transportation funding. Since school busing is a form of Active Transportation, we wanted to provide additional context to our stance on school transportation cuts.

In 1980, the Illinois General Assembly enacted legislation that allowed school districts to request reimbursement for students who live less than 1.5 miles away but are stilled bused due to safety conditions, like railroad tracks, highway crossings and missing sidewalks.

Since then, the state has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in funding per year to school districts for hazardous route busing. With no cap, appropriations have risen dramatically in recent years – from nearly $235 million in 1994 to nearly $723 million in 2009. That’s a 307 percent increase in just 15 years.

Students must be safe on their journey to and from school, and the hazardous route busing program helps accomplish that. However, the program also funds a number of hazardous routes that can easily be made safer. In 2007, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) compiled analyzed data from all of the approved safety bus applications submitted to IDOT in Cook County since 1980. CNT found that many of the hazardous routes that are funded are easily fixed by, for example, better snow removal practices and replacing missing sidewalks. Active Trans has advocated for these funds to be re-directed as another source of income for Safe Routes to School programs.

Beyond the easy fixes, the state has subsidized poor school siting decisions for too long. Forty years ago, more than 40 percent of all children walked and biked to school each day. Today, we have seen a trend in construction of mega schools built in cornfields and schools constructed on multi-lane highways that are too dangerous for student walkers.

Even schools that are constructed in neighborhoods are often not accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists. As a result, only 13 percent of students walk or bike to school regularly and we have seen a heart-breaking increase in the number of students who are obese or overweight.

Illinois has paid the price over the past 30 years. We hope that governor’s budget cuts will lead to a statewide dialogue about school transportation and lead to real change.