Engaging municipal champions in Niagara

Photo caption: Niagara Falls City Councillor and former Olympic boxer, Mike Strange, joins students at Cardinal Newman school for a Walk to School Event.

Municipal champions are stepping forward to enhance Active School Travel (AST) in Niagara. Lisa Gallant, a health promoter at Niagara Region Public Health, has been proactively reaching out to  staff from local municipalities to explore and strengthen their role in supporting the program.

“We recognize the need to work with people who have diverse backgrounds such as engineers involved with traffic safety, planners working on policy development and educators promoting pedestrian or cycling skills,” she says. “By building relationships with them, we are seeing stronger commitment to AST among municipal staff. The excitement around enhancing our program is palpable.”

Lisa has already completed site visits to more than half of Niagara’s 12 local governments and is securing signed commitments based on Ontario Active School Travel’s Regional STP Committee Member Statement of Support.

“They are very receptive to this discussion,” she adds. “Not only are we able to confirm commitment to our program, but we are also able to identify new schools that could benefit from AST, enhancements to programming such as signage and walk maps, and allies to promote messages in the community. We are also identifying new advocates such as by-law officers and crossing guard supervisors interested in going to schools to promote pedestrian safety.

During one meeting, municipal staff noted that roadwork would be taking place near two local schools including the addition of new sidewalks. Niagara Student Transportation Services was able to engage the schools’ principals and organize a walkabout to explore the routes to school that would be affected. City staff will use feedback from the walkabout and follow-up directly with the principals as needed.

Effective municipal engagement: lessons from Niagara

  • Start with a champion – Reach out to a staff person or local councillor who expresses interest in walking and cycling to school to explore ways to work together. That champion can then introduce you to other staff who can play a role in advancing AST.
  • Seek common ground – Look for language in your municipality’s strategic plan such as “creating livable communities” or “increasing wellness” that align with the goals of AST. Staff often receive complaints about traffic congestion and safety around schools and may find value in working with you to reduce these issues.
  • Prepare an agenda – When meeting a new municipality, start with an overview of your AST program and the statement of support. Then identify contact names and confirm interest in attending walkabouts.
  • Be flexible – One municipality preferred to receive and review the results of a school walkabout without participating. Although their staff missed out on the rich discussion and relationship building with the schools and other stakeholders, it met their needs and still allowed them to contribute to the program.

Niagara Active School Travel is co-led by Niagara Student Transportation Services and Niagara Region Public Health, in partnership with the District School Board of Niagara, Niagara Catholic District School Board, Niagara Region and local municipalities. It is one of 28 projects receiving support from the Ontario Active School Travel Fund.

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