Walk-to-school advocates skeptical of district's survey

Walk-to-school advocates skeptical of district's survey

Champaign's Central High School has 27.5 miles of sidewalks within a half-mile radius, a walker's dream.

Yet school officials say fewer than 10 percent of Central's students walk to school.

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Where does that figure come from? A single-question survey taken of students at Central and Centennial on April 25.

Every student in the high school was given a survey in English class with the following question: What is the most common way you get to school?

The choices: Yellow bus. MTD. Car. Walk. Bike.

The results: of the 838 students who responded (71 percent of the school's 1,174 students), 9.9 percent reported walking to school, and 0.48 percent said they biked, for a total of 10.38 percent.

Similar results were found at Centennial High School, with 10.1 percent walking and 0.71 percent biking.

The numbers didn't surprise Superintendent Judy Wiegand, who has long maintained that Central's walking population was overstated.

"I understand the whole emphasis on walking and biking. I would ask anybody to drive by the high schools on any given day and tell me how many bikes are in the bike rack.

"There's a certain desire to have that. But is it a reality?" she asked.

Walk-to-school advocates, however, are skeptical.

Cindy Wachter, whose son attends Central, said the survey should have gone much farther.

"I'm afraid they didn't ask the questions I would ask. It's a way more complex question," said Wachter, a University of Illinois instructor of recreation, sport and tourism who has organized walk-to-school events.

They include: Could you walk to school? Do you ever walk? If not, why not?

For many parents, it's a matter of convenience, Wachter said. Her son gets a ride to school with his father because Central is essentially on his way to work from their home in Clark Park. But he could easily walk if needed, and in fact does walk home sometimes.

Many people work in downtown Champaign, downtown Urbana or on campus, she said, and Central is right on the way, especially with an 8:05 a.m. start time.

That could change with the proposed school site north of Market Place Mall on Interstate Drive.

"This is going to be very different," she said. "What I think they underestimate is how many people are going to rely on MTD. I'm not going to drive up there on a daily basis to drop a kid off."

Wiegand said the survey was just "a snapshot of what students did on that day, just to test that assumption that because students live close to school or in the walking zone that they bike and walk."

The district does not plan to do any more surveys on that issue, Wiegand said, other than Regional Planning Commission transportation studies on the two proposed sites — the one on Interstate Drive and the one encompassing Spalding Park and Judah Christian School.

But spokeswoman Stephanie Stuart added, "This is sort of a starting place. This is a topic that we will continue to discuss as we make some decisions."

The district has data on how many students live within Central's 1.5-mile walk zone but asked The News-Gazette to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get those figures. The district had not yet responded to that request, filed Friday.

However, its FAQ on the school siting process states that 471 students live within walking distance of the Interstate Drive site. Stuart said she didn't know exactly where those students live but said several subdivisions fall within a 1.5-mile radius of the site.

Wachter is skeptical of that as well and said the north site doesn't appear conducive to walking. Building in a cornfield, she said, is not the same as an "inner-city, walkable neighborhood."

"Given our high childhood obesity rate, the question is not how many are currently walking. The question is how can we enable more of them to walk or bike so they can be healthier," added Cynthia Hoyle of the Safe Routes to School program.

COMING THURSDAY: What a new traffic analysis reveals about putting a high school just north of Market Place Mall.

Survey says ...

District officials asked Central High School students: What is the most common way you get to school?

Answer  Percentage  Total Students
Yellow Bus 3.70% 31
MTD 25.89% 217
Car 60.02% 503
Walk 9.90% 83
Bike 0.48% 4
Total   838



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Joe American wrote on June 04, 2014 at 8:06 am

It's really not a very complex question.  It's  simple, thorough and to the point. 

"What is the most common way you get to school?"  It's not a trick question. It's not a loaded question. It asks one simple question and harvests very factual information.

Fact is, kids in general don't want to walk.  I see oodles of them daily getting on the bus and getting off less than a mile later.  I know the mndset of high schoolers. There are a number of reasons - from laziness to feelings of entitlemet to getting every minute of sleep they can, just to name a few - that they don't want to walk.  If they wanted to walk, they'd walk.

Great job, Central & Centennial.  You've verified what parents of high schoolers have known for years.

rsp wrote on June 04, 2014 at 9:06 am

So stick a pin in the Interstate Drive site, draw a circle 1.5 miles. Anyone think they won't redistrict raise your hand. Anyone? So why are they trying to claim this will be a "neighborhood" school? Like 471 kids will walk out the door and walk to school? Doesn't everyone want their kid to go to the bright shiny new school with all the bells and whistles? And the athletic fields!

astumpf wrote on June 04, 2014 at 9:06 am
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I rode my bike by Central several years ago and was appalled by the bike racks there.  They were the old racks where you put your front wheel in the rack and anyone with a decent bike would be afraid their bike would be stolen.  The rack was overcrowded and insufficient for the population at the school.

The modern standard for bike racks is the inverted "U" rack where you can use a U lock to lock your bike frame and wheel to the rack. You can see these racks all over the U of I and communities.

So why is everyone surprised that more people don't ride their bikes to school? 

Invest in some decent bike racks and I bet you'll see more students and staff ride their bikes to school!!!

Kathy S wrote on June 04, 2014 at 2:06 pm

I absolutely agree!  I often ride my bike to volunteer at Central, but I usually lock it up to a rack at West Side Park.

Kathy S wrote on June 04, 2014 at 2:06 pm

We really need to encourage walking to school--it's better for the students and for the environment.  The fact that we are currently not doing a great job of that isn't a good argument for giving up altogether.  Not to mention the fact that the results of this survey mean that if we build the new high school up north, traffic is going to get a whole lot worse.

tarlos25 wrote on June 04, 2014 at 2:06 pm

Right now, kids have plenty of reason NOT to walk, and few reasons to walk.

Reasons to walk/bike:

  • Health
  • Less carbon emission

Reasons not to walk/bike:

  • Time
  • Weather
  • Safety (though that's questionable with traffic, I still feel much safer in a car than on foot)
  • Peer pressure
  • Convenience
  • Weight/size of books/homework/projects

I'm sure there are plenty more reasons, those are just the ones I can immediately think of.

Champaign Mom wrote on June 04, 2014 at 4:06 pm

I believe the Spalding site is preferable because it keeps the new facilities in closer proximity to the parts of our community that are more densely populated AND also to neighborhoods that that are generally more populated by lower income families and families with students of color. I believe that long-term inequities in facilities and opportunities will continue/be exacerbated if we put new buildings in predominantly white areas and do not intentionally build up the infrastructure in the areas of our community in which low income families and families of color live.

With regard to the walking to school piece, I think that the analysis done has some flaws, most of which were identified in the article.

1. Because of its central location, current students probably can more easily be dropped off/picked up by family members without too much trouble because the building location is reasonably convenient and on the way to work for hundreds of families. At the suggested north site, that may not be the case for as many people. Parents who can drop off/pick up on their way to work on campus, or at Carle, or downtown Champaign may not be able to change their "commute" to work to include a 30-40 minute "detour" . . 15 minutes out to the north site, 15 minutes back in, etc.  So what is now a do-able routine may not be do-able in a different location.

2. I worry about kids participating in before, after school, and evening activities. For kids with sports or other activities at 6:00 am or ending at 10:30 pm the MTD routes will not be running frequently enough at those times of day for that to be a safe or reasonable alternative. The more distant the school location, the more difficult it will be for families who don't own a car or multiple cars to support their student's participation.