Several parents have contacted Walk Toronto to find out how they can make it easier and safer for their children to walk to school. There are programs in Toronto and the GTA, both from governments and NGOs, dedicated to increasing the number of students walking to school.
Active and Safe Routes to School is a program initiated by Green Communities Canada. They have developed a whole series of programs and resources, and they partner with municipalities and school boards. See for example the Canadian School Travel Planning Facilitator Guide (PDF).
Toronto Public Health has staff members dedicated to working on the Active and Safe Routes to School program. They are a good first point of contact to help organize activities and navigate the City and school bureaucracy to get changes made. They have recently added a “Walking to School” information page and have put together a “Why walk to school?” (PDF) information sheet.
Toronto District School Board’s EcoSchools program has a Sustainable Transportation module (PDF) which students and teachers can use to connect with the right people at the Board and get started.
The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation has published a guide, Guide to Safer Streets Near Schools: Understanding Your Policy Options in the City of Toronto. See also this short pamphlet from a coalition of academic institutions with findings from research about walking to school, School Traffic Safety in the City of Toronto (PDF).
Metrolinx, the regional transportation agency for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, is also very interested in promoting walking to school. Metrolinx conducted a large-scale School Travel Study (PDF) to identify the current state of school travel in the region and has published School Travel Planning in Action in Ontario (PDF) to feature some case studies of successful programs, with concrete examples of the measures taken in specific schools and the increase in walking to school that resulted.
It’s also helpful to get the local city councillor and school board trustee on board. They can help with working with staff, for example, the area manager for City of Toronto Transportation Services, who are the ones who will implement changes. Most importantly, your local councillor will be the person who brings any proposals for changes to the streets to the local community council. When working with elected officials, it’s always more persuasive to have a group of parents supporting any initiative, rather than just working on an individual basis.
A good starting point is often to organize a walk along the route in question, including parents, children, the local councillor, possibly local police (who are in charge of the crossing guard program), and city staff.
If you know of other resources or have experience with working on a walk to school initiative, please let us know in the comments.