Recently, Street Smarts updated the progress being made during the Highway 1 auxiliary lanes project. While gathering information on the congestion relief project, I learned it has helped ease traffic around schools affected by the project.
Below is my interview with Tegan Speiser of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission's Commute Solutions.
Can you explain the project's Safe Routes to School element?
Knowing that the La Fonda Bridge would be out for the greater part of the school year, the RTC worked with both DeLaveaga Elementary and Harbor High schools and various community partners on Transportation Demand Management initiatives at the schools to reduce traffic and improve safety during the demolition and construction of the new bridge. At both schools, our efforts are focused on using education and incentives to encourage the use of sustainable transportation to get to school.
The RTC and their Commute Solutions program created new customized web pages for each school highlighting the transportation options and resources available to each school community.
How did Commute Solutions help students at Harbor and DeLaveaga get to and from campus?
Our strategy was a combination of expanding existing programs, such as Boltage operated by Ecology Action and a Safe Routes to School project previously conducted by the City of Santa Cruz; offering new programs, such as Carpooltoschool.com, Team YO! and student shuttles; and providing information and personalized trip planning services to families with students at these schools. For more about the elements of programs and services, please visit the web pages the RTC set up for each school – urls provided above.
School officials and residents alike have said traffic around the two campuses has actually improved. Would you like to comment on that?
Here are excerpts from our communications with neighbors and school officials:
- “Our Cabinet team made it to every school yesterday, as we opened up the new school year. We anticipated some traffic issues to arise at Harbor and DL. We started our day at DeLaveaga and found that traffic was flowing smoothly…Once we made it to Harbor, office staff reported that the traffic in/out of school was the best it's been since the last 9 years! … I just want to express my sincere appreciation for what your team has done for our schools and our community. Big, big kudos to your team!”
~Alvaro Meza, Asst. Superintendent, Business Services
- “Love the Boltage program. Many more kids riding (bikes) to school this year than last...”
~Dina, parent, Delaveaga Elementary
- “My compliments to you and your colleagues for keeping the public so well informed!”
- “I'm just thrilled there is a shuttle and have told several other families in our neighborhood about it…It's working for us so far. Thanks.”
~Maya, parent, Delaveaga Elementary
- “A small crew is improving the culvert at the street end of my creek and they have been very professional and considerate…I'm really impressed with their wanting to preserve my natural setting…Thank you for your great customer service and best wishes for the remainder of the job. I'm looking forward to the sound wall, landscaping, and pedestrian/bike friendly La Fonda bridge.”
- “Many thanks to you and the team for all the work you have put into these efforts! It has paid off with reduced car traffic and less congestion in the front of our school.”
~Angela Meeker, Principal, DeLaveaga Elementary
What role did you play in helping people figure out the best route/means to get to school?
The RTC/Commute Solutions staff did the following:
- Produced large scale maps that were used at community outreach events that show how close students live to their schools. We used these maps to identify and illustrate the best transportation options to each school.
- Provided presentations and tabled at many student and parent events at both schools arranging personalized trip planning and signing up students up for transportation programs, including the shuttle.
- Have had ongoing transportation articles and posts in school newsletters and on websites. Participated in a student transportation assembly at Harbor.
- Created Team YO! a youth transportation options program at Harbor High School to create awareness about the environmental benefits of transportation options and incentives to encourage use of bicycling, walking and transit.
- The project funded additional bicycle racks at Harbor High, encouraging more bike use by providing more safe storage locations.
- Enhanced signage near the Boltage equipment at DeLaveaga Elementary by painting on the pavement the “sweet spot” in which students must stand for their sustainable trip to be counted, and producing and installing two new banners identifying the location of the Boltage equipment. We also participated in upgrading the Boltage enrollment literature and backpack-tags and translating materials into Spanish.
- In addition to funding by the highway project for the Boltage program at DeLaveaga Elementary, the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz also provided financial resources for this successful incentive program and the program has had a huge increase in participation. Of the 650 students enrolled at Delaveaga, a whopping 40% logged at least one or more trips in the Boltage program this year by walking, biking, carpooling or taking the bus. The vast majority of these trips were by biking and walking and involved no motorized vehicle! Here’s Ecology Action’s most recent report of the Boltage participation stats comparing this year with last.
- Last year- Aug through Feb.
187 kids logged 1 or more trips
5,212 trips logged
489,128 calories burned
- This year - Aug through Feb.
259 kids logged 1 or more trips -- a 38% increase
7,937 trips logged -- a 52% increase
22,851 miles – an 100% increase
980,316 calories burned
Was there a huge influx of calls and/or emails from area parents?
The RTC took a proactive approach to our outreach by walking the neighborhoods, attending school meetings, and sending mail to each student household. We received many thank yous for being available at all of the important school events to provide information about each school’s transportation programs. There were some questions about the shuttle during the first month of school, and the RTC was able to accommodate all interested families with seats on the shuttle. The only thing we couldn’t do, was add more stops to the shuttle route as this would have prevented students from arriving to school on time.
What have you been hearing since the project began and the new routes in place?
Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Our sense is that many families have adopted new transportation to school patterns. It is our hope that the patterns and programs can continue into future school years. As part of this project, two routes to school were improved: the bicycle/pedestrian path between Park Way and La Fonda was widened and new sidewalks were added on Rooney Street near Pacheco Avenue. Both of these projects were paved with a 'green cement' material that reduces green house gases through the use of a partial cement replacement. The innovative product is made from industrial carbon dioxide, which would have otherwise been released into the atmosphere, and instead is permanently stored in a solid form in the concrete.
How long did it take for the complaints to die down and people to get into the hang of things?
We have had nothing but positive comments on the school Transportation Demand Measures implemented as part of this project. However, we have received feedback about the added congestion in the Rooney/Pacheco area and enforcement of one-way traffic on Brookwood Way.
What's the plan for when the La Fonda overcrossing reopens? Do you think the traffic problems of old will return or people will continue with their current travel methods?
They say that it takes between 21 and 30 days to establish a new habit. Hopefully, we’ve helped establish some of new good travel habits this year that will continue well into the future. We look forward to continuing to work with the school administrations at Delaveaga and Harbor and to host the two transportation web pages developed for their schools on the Commute Solutions website. We also envision ongoing partnerships with organizations such as Ecology Action, local governments, and other schools for programs like Boltage, Carpooltoschool.com and various Safe Routes to School projects.
Will you continue to work with the school to educate future generations of students and parents about their travel options?
The value of implementing school-based transportation demand management programs is clear. The RTC is investigating ways to build upon the services and programs implemented this year and to secure funding to expand these efforts to other schools, since almost every school in the county faces peak period congestion and similar transportation challenges.