We all know that barriers to promoting active school transportation go beyond a lack of infrastructure. The Town of Ajax’s Youth Active School Travel Toolkit attempts to address some of the social challenges that stand in the way of establishing a culture of active mobility. And, the best part—the resource is co-authored by a group of six students aged 14-16!
“We are working on creating an Equitable Community Engagement Plan and an action within the plan is to collaborate with youth leadership. We had an Equitable Community Engagement Workshop, led by Jay Pitter Placemaking, which identified a need to build capacity among staff and the community. Five youth from various high schools in different parts of Ajax were part of the workshop held in October and different things including the benefits of active school travel were discussed at the event,” says Armi De Francia, the Active Transportation Coordinator at the Town of Ajax.
The toolkit intends to help youth leaders promote active school travel in their communities. It contains resources to promote walking and cycling, and highlights the benefits of using active modes to and from school, shared through personal anecdotes. In addition, the document has responses to parental concerns on active school commute and addresses some challenges that are not often discussed in active transportation conversations—including gender-based violence, racism and Islamophobia.
“These are challenging topics but the concerns don’t go away if you don’t address them. Sometimes, I see a community and wonder why kids don’t walk or wheel to a school that’s like a 5-minute walk away and find out later there might’ve been an untoward incident that might be causing mistrust. It’s important to understand those nuances because people want to feel heard and understood,” says De Francia. She notes that some of these conversations would be relevant in communities across Ontario, depending on the demographics.
The toolkit also has heartwarming elements that are worth highlighting.
“One beautiful thing about the toolkit is that it incorporates stories from youth on the positive impact that active school travel has had on their lives growing up. One student talked about how school travel helped her get to know what businesses were in the neighborhood and gave her a chance to meet some of her neighbours while another talked about how it improved her relationship with her brother,” says the coordinator.
The Town of Ajax Active Transportation team is excited about publishing print and online versions of the toolkit this June.
The project in Ajax is one of the community-based projects to receive support from the Ontario Active School Travel Fund.