Open Letter from the MPCA to Elected Representatives
Urgent Action Needed to Protect Children’s Active Transportation to Schools – Particularly In Manor Park
14 August 2020
Dear Mayor Watson, OCDSB, CEPEO and Honorable Representatives:
We are writing to you with urgent concerns about the safety of children and youth travelling to and from school through the Manor Park neighbourhood this school year, starting in September 2020. We can expect that due to concerns regarding possible spread of COVID-19 on school buses and public transit, many additional parents will decide to drive their children to school in private vehicles. Also, increased numbers of students will be coming to school by walking and rolling (bicycles, scooters, etc). Taken together, the increased vehicle traffic and children walking and rolling to school presents an increased risk to student safety around schools, especially for children who use active transportation means.
Encouraging active transportation makes sense as it reduces potential exposure to COVID-19 for children travelling to and from school, while at the same time having many health co-benefits, for example improved concentration at school. It is also a measure with the potential to particularly benefit children living in poverty, whose parents may not be in a position to drive them to school and would otherwise be more likely to require bussing to school, increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Parents are already getting official communications from schools and the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) in this regard. The OSTA clearly states on their website: “It is recommended that parents and students use active transportation to get to school as much as possible. Walking and rolling the whole way, or part of the way, will reduce traffic around the school and provide a mask-free experience.” The motion unanimously passed by Councillor Riley Brockington on active transportation on July 15th endorses active transportation and promises re-painted school zone cross walks and traffic calming lines and a public safety campaign. The City needs to do more than PROMOTE active transportation. It needs to create safe ROUTES for students to travel to their schools. Families have had enough to worry about this year with COVID19. They should not need to worry about their children getting injured or killed by a car on their way to school.
Of particular concern in the vicinity of Manor Park are the main arteries of St. Laurent Blvd North, Hemlock Road and Beechwood Avenue. Despite the presence of flexi-posts on St. Laurent Blvd North and Hemlock Road, and a Radar Speed sign on Hemlock Road, speeds along all of these routes regularly surpass 50km/h. Flexi-posts do not provide an adequate level of safety and separation for children trying to use these roads to get to school riding bicycles.
This sudden shift in school transportation needs due to COVID19 provides an opportunity to improve health, increase the uptake of more sustainable and active transportation options for children and youth, and improve safety around schools. However, if infrastructure changes are not made now, children’s safety is at risk. The last thing we want is for a child or parent to be seriously injured or even killed while simply trying to get to school
We propose a number of measures that could be implemented quickly and increase safety:
1) Reduce speed limits to 40km/h AND increase enforcement of speed on St. Laurent Blvd North of Montreal Road, Hemlock Road and Beechwood Avenue.
2) Minimize private vehicle use on roads immediately adjacent to schools during school days/hours, reducing congestion near the school and encouraging driving parents to drop their children off at a further distance and have them walk at least part-way to school. ActiveTO’s Quiet streets initiative could provide a model for this as outlined here: https://www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-protect-yourself-others/covid-19-reduce-virus-spread/covid-19-activeto/covid-19-activeto-quiet-streets/)
3) Rapidly install temporary measures to convert current bike lanes with flexi-posts into fully protected and separated lanes (ie. concrete curbs between flexi-posts). Of note, the city of Toronto added physical separation to bike lanes rapidly in the spring of 2020 as part of its ActiveTO initiative in response to COVID19, in some cases within 2 weeks! https://www.cycleto.ca/news/growing-activeto-bike-lanes). Plan to maintain these routes through the winter as is done for key cycling routes in other winter cities such as Montreal.
4) Beechwood Avenue should have a rapid temporary installation of separated bike lanes with flexi-posts and concrete curbs and re-alignment such that bike lanes are immediately adjacent to sidewalks and not between parked cars and moving traffic. This has been successfully implemented on McArthur Ave. and along traditional main streets in other cities, as in the Bloor Street Bike Lane project in Toronto with considerable safety benefits for ALL road users, increased cyclist volumes, minimal travel time increases for motorists and successful implementation of curbside pick-up/drop-off and parking mitigation measures. (https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/streets-parking-transportation/cycling-in-toronto/cycle-track-projects/bloor-street-bike-lanes/).
5) Install more bike racks at schools or on city property near schools so there is enough storage space for students to securely lock their bikes during the school day.
We recognize these measures may seem ambitious and that time is limited for changes before the school year begins. However, COVID19 has shown that things can change quickly when the need and the motivation is great. If there is a time to make active transportation safer and more accessible to school children, it is now. We trust that you are aware of recent federal government announcements including Minister McKenna announcing the $3.3-billion COVID-19 Resilience funding stream that accelerates spending under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, highlighting that it can be accessed quickly by municipalities for projects including safe cycling and walking paths. We look forward to working with you to make safe active transportation a priority for children and youth who travel to school within Manor Park.
Elizabeth J. McAlllister