Mill Valley schools get Safe Routes awards

Old Mill, Tam Valley honored Safe Routes work

By Ryan White, Mill Valley Herald
August 25, 2010

MV students on bike path
Two Mill Valley schools were recently honored for their success in encouraging students to walk, bike or carpool to school. Above, bicyclists on the Mill Valley-Sausalito bike path.

Old Mill School and Tam Valley School have been among the most successful schools in the county when it comes to encouraging students to walk, bike, take the bus or carpool to school, according to the Safe Routes to School program’s first annual Green Ways to School awards.

In the category of program achievement award, Old Mill took first place and a cash award of $1,000. Tam Valley placed second and will receive a $250 award.

Old Mill School has increased what Safe Routes calls “green trips” by 38 percent since 2003. If busing or carpooling is taken out of the equation, the school’s walking and biking trips are up 26 percent since the school joined Safe Routes in 2003, according to Wendi Kallins, program director for Safe Routes to School, a program administered by the Transportation Authority of Marin.

Tam Valley School was among the first schools in Marin to enroll in the Safe Routes program when the latter began in 2000. “Almost everybody was driving their kids to school,” Kallins said, referring to Tam Valley. “You can imagine what traffic was like.”

Since then, Tam Valley has decreased school traffic by 26 percent, Kallins said.

Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, who was responsible for starting Old Mill’s Safe Routes program with help from Steps, Lanes and Paths advocate Victoria Talkington, was happy to hear of the awards this week.

“It’s very exciting to hear the news and to reap the benefits of walking and biking,” she said. “We are very definitely seeing a mode shift for the younger elementary-age students.”

Old Mill volunteers Ingrid Tolson, Bryce Goeking and Mary Anderson have continued the Safe Routes program at Old Mill in recent years, Kallins said. The school is particularly well situated for students to walk to school, given the number of Steps, Lanes and Paths crisscrossing the hills above the campus.

Asked how successful Mill Valley and Marin more generally has been in encouraging students and parents to walk, bike, bus and carpool, Kallins said, “I think we succeeded in the first 10 years in getting the low-hanging fruit.”

The Safe Routes program has been especially effective in reaching people who only needed a modest nudge to walk or bike, Kallins said. Getting the next round of students and parents to change their ways, those that might need more than a hint, remains a challenge.

“We have a strong environmental ethic in Marin but we also have a higher carbon footprint than the national average, and that largely has to do with how we get around,” Kallins said.

Moulton-Peters suggested that if Mill Valley makes it easier for people to get around without their vehicles, they’ll do so.

“I think we have really made huge gains in encouraging kids to walk and bike,” Moulton-Peters said. “What we really need now is changes and improvements to Mill Valley’s streets, to the infrastructure, to encourage more children to walk and bike, and walk and bike more places besides school.”

Making Miller Avenue more bike-friendly through streetscape improvements, currently in the planning phase, would make it easier for students to bike to the middle school and high school, another ongoing challenge. While elementary kids may readily embrace walking or biking, those numbers tend to fall off as students get older.

“The tricky part is keeping kids walking and biking in middle and high school,” Moulton-Peters said.

But with schools like Old Mill and Tam Valley graduating more and more students accustomed to walking, biking or carpooling to school, Safe Routes leaders are hoping communities like Mill Valley will eventually reach a tipping point.

“Changing the way you travel, that’s the challenge,” Kallins said. “I’m very excited to use this Green Ways to School campaign to get across to people that this is the big one. We can really change the way we travel, starting with how you get your kids to school.”

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