Contrary to the popular imagery of quiet main streets, many small communities have large and busy streets running through them. These streets are often the only retail, and social spaces in smaller communities. Yet, the high levels of speed and traffic on these important routes can have a significant effect on the quality of life of smaller communities.
For example, in Caledon East, a town of 2,201 people north of Mississauga, parents feel that walking in the town, which is bisected by Airport Road, is too dangerous for their children. As the Toronto Star reports:
More than 280 residents of Caledon East have signed a petition, recently presented to the Peel District School Board, asking it to keep the current school bus service — set to end this September — which picks up about 49 area children from 36 families and transports them safely to Caledon East Public School at 15738 Airport Rd.
They just don’t feel it’s safe for the children to walk a route to school that includes narrow sidewalks, obscured sightlines and a number of driveways, says Martin-Robbins whose twin 9-year-old daughters, Cassie and Taylor, are in Grade 3 at Caledon East Public School…
“Yes, there are sidewalks but there’s only about a 3-foot gap to the road. This is not a distance issue, it’s safety,” said Cameron. “Nobody is saying it’s too far to walk. The issue is whether it’s safe to walk.”
The Martin-Robbins’ children live about 1.5 kilometres from the 255-student school, with a big chunk of that route along Airport Rd.
And there’s a lot of traffic rolling along 50-kilometre-an-hour Airport Rd. in Caledon East, which is used by an average 11,000 vehicles daily, including about 1,200 heavy trucks, according to data from the Region of Peel, Traffic Engineering, Transportation, Public Works.
It is discouraging when children and their parents in any community are too afraid to walk to school. Yet, it is a common theme in smaller communities. Research from New Zealand shows that the quality of infrastructure and high levels of traffic in smaller communities is a significant barrier to walking and active transportation. This makes sense as the lower densities of smaller communities means they have less resources to provide decent infrastructure.
The issues with the street and infrastructure are also compounded by how the Caledon East Public School is designed and built. It is built on the edge of the town so that it can better serve the wider catchment area, not only the town itself. The consequence is that the school is placed and designed to be accessed by bus or car, not by foot.
Designing schools for buses and cars in any community dramatically increases costs to the town and the school board and negatively affects the health and safety of students. The impact of these decisions are easier to see in smaller communities like Caledon East, but similar impacts can be seen in small towns and large cities across North America. The ability of most communities to pay for busing hides the reality that in many children and adults simply don’t have safe routes to school.