A typical commute to school can be a hectic scene. Parents, often on a tight schedule, swerve through traffic two minutes before class so they can double or triple-park and send their kids to school just in time to head to work. Drivers plow right through intersections and crosswalks at pick-up and drop-off times everyday across elementary schools in Mountain View.
And while the kids might make it to class before the bell rings, this all happens at the cost of child safety, according to leaders of a traffic safety group in Mountain View.
"It's like trying to cross 880 at the busiest time of day," said Pat Hines, founder and executive director of Safe Moves, a non-profit organization dedicated to traffic safety education.
That's why Hines, working with the Vehicle Emissions Reductions Based at Schools Program (VERBS), developed maps to show parents the safest routes their kids can walk or bike to school, including the location of cross walks, stop signs, and stop lights.
Hines said they walked and biked every possible route to schools across the city for months to develop the maps, Monday through Friday in good and bad weather, and took into account traffic at intersections and the number of trucks on the road. The maps were reviewed by the Mountain View Police Department, parents, and a city engineer.
While the maps are a result of rigorous testing, Hines said they will continue to change, and should be updated as routes change with construction and development. At the Mountain View Whisman School District board meeting, she told parents to take part in the map-making process and take the routes themselves.
"It is a work in progress. We want to be receptive to new changes and new traffic patterns as development continues in the city of Mountain View," Hines said.
The map will be available online and in hard copy in English, Spanish and other languages, and will also be on the Mountain View Police Department website. Hines said she plans to hang large, "oversized" printed maps in school offices across the district for parents to come in, look at the routes and make suggestions.
"We're really proud of the maps. We hope that it gives parents some confidence to let their children walk and ride their bikes to school, and be a part of the community again," Hines said.
Hines said the program has worked closely with the Mountain View Police Department in the effort to beef up traffic safety around schools. This week the police department is participating in "Operation Safe Passage" 2014, a week-long campaign where police focus on increased traffic enforcement around schools during pick-up and drop-off hours.
The police department website will also have safety tips for drivers as well as students who walk home from school. Operation Safe Passage runs from Monday, April 21, through Friday, April 25.
Hines said these kinds of campaigns are effective for public outreach, and notifying the public that law enforcement is watching can curb poor driving habits. The Mountain View Police Department is dedicated to safety around schools, she said.
The maps for safe routes to school and the traffic enforcement are just two of the ways Hines and the "VERBS" program are encouraging parents and students to bike or walk to school instead of driving, which would cut down on the number of cars during pick-up and drop-off times and reduce the risk of collisions. Hines said there's safety in numbers when it comes to kids' commute -- the more kids that walk and bike to school, the safer it will be for them.
Hines said one of the biggest reasons parents drive their kids to school is because everything turns into a time crunch in the morning, and there's such a rush to get kids to school on time that there's no window of opportunity to bike or walk to school. Often the most crowded, scary time to commute to school is the four or five minutes before the bell rings.
Hines said the solution is a behavioral change. She said parents need to leave a 15 to 20 minute window to get to school, and make a concerted effort the night before to get things ready ahead of time to eliminate crunch time.
May 7 is the official Bike to School Day, but Hines said schools in Mountain View will be celebrating during the entire month of May. Schools will choose different days to designate their own "Bike to School Day," and the class at each school with the most bicyclists will be rewarded with a party with treats from a bike-powered smoothie machine.
Other events include the "Anything But a Car Day," at Graham Middle School on May 13, a self-explanatory event.