The Sydney students shaping their own safe routes to school

When staff at Willoughby Public School went to their local council with concerns about car congestion and road safety, they expected engineering solutions to the problem.   

But the volume of traffic around the school at drop-off and pick-up times called for some bigger-picture thinking  - a solution beyond a new "wombat" crossing or a signalised intersection.

More than 80% of the school's families live within 1.5km of the school, yet more than 50% rely on cars for student transport.  

Willoughby City Council chose to pursue a behaviour change solution and looked at how it could promote the uptake of active travel.  

Bicycle Network's Active Paths program, which is part of its popular Ride2School initiative, supports communities in the development of Active Paths. The paths provide children and their parents with safe routes to walk and ride to school.

Traditionally, these are developed through workshops where students work with the Ride2school team to map out safe routes. But at Willoughby Public School, things are working a little differently.  

The school has worked with Bicycle Network, the council and the Observatory Hill Environmental Education Centre to integrate active travel into its curriculum through a forward-thinking set of geography classes 

These classes based curriculum outcomes on the relationships between people, places and environments, and how active travel can contribute to the health, safety, and wellbeing of the school and wider community.

Student input from classes was used to create Active Paths, which were launched last week. Outcomes of classes were shared to give all students knowledge of how they can get safely to school and to support active travel in the community.

Students will also learn about the carbon impacts of different travel modes and how local transport trends have evolved through the generations.  

"We often think about infrastructure being built for adults, but children are living it every day," says Bicycle Network's Ride2School coordinator Nicolas Ozolins.

"Because children are smaller and walk instead of driving, their experience is different and they offer a unique perspective on the built environment. Making streets safer for kids goes a long way towards making them safer for everyone. 

The students will monitor school travel patterns to evaluate the impact of the pilot project, which Willoughby City Council mayor Tanya Taylor says is already proving a "huge success" with teachers, students and parents.  

“Council and the school have set a target to increase active travel rates by 10%, bringing them to 15%, which will take 100-200 cars off the streets around the school at peak times,” says Taylor.   

“By encouraging students and their families to walk and cycle to school more, the students can help reduce emissions and risk to pedestrians around their school. It’s a great example of the students being able to think globally and act locally." 

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