Ajax is no newbie to active school travel (AST) initiatives. Initial work to get more kids walking and wheeling to school began as early as 2010! But, a grant from the OAST Fund in 2019 helped boost those efforts over the last two years.
The Town of Ajax, the project lead, put this additional support to use by updating its Active and Safe Routes to School (ASRTS) manual, the initial version of which was launched in 2014. Town staff also designed and printed physical copies of the manual and delivered them to all participating schools. And an ASRTS website was also updated with new resources.
Besides the manual, the site sports bike safety videos for new riders as well as maps. “We created walking and biking maps showing distances to various schools with the intention of engaging schools without putting additional burden on teachers who were already laden with a lot of extra work because of COVID-19,” says Armi De Francia, the town’s Active Transportation Coordinator.
Other COVID response measures deserve special mention. A back-to-school social media campaign promoting walking and wheeling to school as a way to maintain physical distancing was implemented in fall 2020 with inclusive imagery reflecting Ajax’s diverse population. In November, a community-wide family survey was also launched to understand how perceptions about the active commute to school have changed as a result of the pandemic.
“We promoted the survey on social media and through neighbourhood groups,” De Francia adds. “It gave us some insights on data collection that will be useful in the future.”
Survey results are being evaluated now and will be presented to area schools boards by mid-2021. De Francia adds that improved relationships with the boards and a better understanding of their concerns and needs is also key takeaway from the project.
The Ajax Active & Safe Routes to School project is one of 28 community-based initiatives that received support from the Ontario Active School Travel Fund in 2018-20.