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Safe, active travel to school could see bump in upcoming Calgary budget

More cash could be made available in the city’s upcoming budget to expand safe and active routes to Calgary schools.

Calgary’s Infrastructure and Planning committee approved recommendations to match last year’s funding for the program and also provide expanded options in November’s four-year budget.

The Active and Safe Routes to School program was funded in the last budget with $1.5 million in capital funding and $75,000 annual in operating cash.  In that time, infrastructure improvements were made around 24 Calgary schools. It’s also provided education to students at more than 30 schools.

The goal of the program is to make it easier and safer for kids to walk or bike to school.

“These improvements have made it safer for students to reach their schools,” said Charlene Wilcock, transportation planner with the City of Calgary.

“However, these improvements only address a small or a very short portion of a student’s overall journey to or from school.”

An expanded program would reach more schools and continue to fill gaps in sidewalks, pathway links and prioritizing 5A links around them, Wilcock said.

Laura Shutiak, executive director of the group Youth En Route, an organization committed to encouraging more cycling to school, said surveys they’ve done show 55 per cent of kids own bikes, but they’re not using them to get to school. Safety, security of bikes and ease of route access contributed.

“We really feel that this is the low hanging fruit of climate change, of your, sort of transitioning to a low carbon future,” Shutiak said.

More active trips to school

Shutiak said they want to transition half of car trips to active modes for 100 days of the school year. She said that could mean 1,000 fewer car trips per day at a school like Lester Pearson.

Transit is an important school link for many older students, Shutiak said. She had hoped the city’s bikes on transit pilot would have coincided with the school year.

“I would really ask you to consider this population as you look at that piece,” she said.

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer said he believed this was an important investment. He said it’s a relatively small amount of potential funding that would go a long way in a community.

“These are the kinds of things that bring communities together. Few things motivate individuals in our community like their kids,” he said.

“This is the future of how we should be building and also we get creativity in the mix as well.”

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner, who added in the recommendation for expanded options to the budget, said she believes they’ve all heard safe and active modes to school are important to residents.

“This really makes sure that we are giving that assurance to our residents that we have been listening and we are wanting to put into place those services and upgrades and amenities around their school to foster more active and safe travels at school,” she said.

The item was approved 7-2, with Couns. Andre Chabot and Dan McLean against.  It still needs approval at a full meeting of council.