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Do sidewalks equal student safety? One group is pushing for change

'Connected sidewalks to schools' is on the agenda at the 2019 Safe Routes to School National Conference in Tampa.

TAMPA, Fla. — Walk Bike Tampa, a citizens-based advocacy group, is hosting one of the most important conversations surrounding student safety -- how to make sure walkers and bikers get to school safely.

The 2019 Safe Routes to School National Conference is being held November 12-14 at the Hilton Tampa Downtown.

Walk Bike Tampa is advocating for:

  • Connected sidewalk routes to schools
  • Adequate bike infrastructure to protect young riders
  • High emphasis crosswalks and safety signage in school zones
  • A city, county, and school district commitment to supporting safe, active transportation options for children of all races, income levels, and abilities

In Florida, if a student lives within two miles of their school, they are not eligible to take a bus, meaning many students are forced to find their own way to school. In many cases, they walk or bike.

"A lot of neighborhoods in Hillsborough County do not have sidewalks at all. They may have a few connected routes but a lot of neighborhoods have no sidewalks, no places for children to walk," said Emily Hinsdale, a member of the Board of Directors for Walk Bike Tampa.

In Hillsborough County, an estimated 82,000 students live within two miles of their assigned school, meaning they have to find alternate means of transportation to get to school. Nearly 57,000 of them are elementary school students.

According to Tanya Arja, a Hillsborough County Public Schools spokesperson, hazardous walking criteria has not had any substantial changes over the last forty years.

The Safe Routes to School National Conference provides an opportunity for hundreds of transportation and public health advocates to come together and share their ideas and best practices -- many of which could be applied in Tampa.

Hinsdale added, "We hope to learn from them about things we can do to better our city and especially our school areas."