For a place known as the “Automotive Capital of Canada,” the Windsor-Essex region of Ontario is making big moves to prioritize active transportation for children and youth. The Windsor-Essex County Active School Travel (WEC–AST) Committee has spearheaded the development of a ‘School Active Transportation Charter‘ with the goal of having it endorsed by all nine municipalities in the region. The Charter calls upon the community partners to provide sustained support, resources, and education for active school transportation over the long term.
The document outlines the personal and environmental benefits of walking or wheeling to school. It also recommends various actions community partners can undertake to ensure long-term commitment to promoting active school travel. These include incorporating active transportation policies into school and municipal planning, conducting neighbourhood audits, and encouraging active travel and road safety events, among others.
The first municipality to endorse the School Active Transportation Charter was the City of Windsor, after a resolution was passed at the City’s September 27, 2021 Special Meeting of Council. Buoyed by that early support from the City of Windsor, the WEC–AST Committee is all set to approach the Mayors and Town Councils throughout the County of Essex to get more endorsements for the Charter.
“We were really thrilled to get the City of Windsor on-board early and have their support going forwards as we recruit other municipalities and community partners to join the Charter” says Kevin, Health Promotion Specialist at Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), who leads the project. “Our goal is to have the Charter made into plaques and have them posted at schools or school boards because this Charter will help keep the legacy alive.“
The School Active Transportation Charter is only one part of the Windsor-Essex project. On the ground, the WEC-AST Committee is working with six pilot schools to develop and promote School Travel Plans. Baseline surveys were undertaken in the summer of 2021 to assess the travel behaviours of students. These surveys received a warm response with nearly 500 parent and 1,500 student participants.
More recently, the project team brought together parents, teachers, health unit staff, police and municipal representatives to carry out ‘walk-ability’ and ‘bike-ability’ audits in the neighbourhoods around the schools. The audits were effective in identifying safety concerns and locations along school routes that could benefit from infrastructure improvements. They were also successful in bringing together a diverse mixture of community members to share experiences and perspectives on school travel and community safety.
“We have seen phenomenal local engagement in the Windsor-Essex active school travel project so far,” said Barry Horrobin, Director of Planning & Physical Resources at Windsor Police Service. “The walking and cycling audits use a great process that enables community members to collaborate on issues that matter to them. The audits creatively enable all participants to both see and feel what each active route to school actually is like for the students who use them.”
To learn more about Active School Travel Charters and how you can build greater support in your community, checkout the School Travel Planning Toolkit.
The initiatives in Windsor-Essex are one of the latest community-based projects to receive support from the Ontario Active School Travel Fund.