What is an Active Transportation System for Kids?

When you think about a transportation system, what comes to mind? Most people think of public transportation, like buses and trains. In Hamilton, this is the HSR. A transportation system is a group of components that work together to get people or goods from one place to another. For example, think about taking the bus. How many parts of a transportation system can you count? There’s a bus, a bus stop, a driver, a route the bus drives on, even marketing to let you know that the bus is a viable service. These components are just scratching the surface of all of the things that must come together to bring you where you need to go. Every system is a group of components that work together to serve a common purpose. So, by definition, an active transportation system for kids is a group of components that work together to enable kids to use active transportation to get to their daily destinations.

A transportation system can be broken down into three parts:

  • the vehicle,
  • the guideway,
  • the operations plans.

The Vehicle is our starting point. Any transportation system takes into account the specific needs and capabilities of the vehicle to design a safe and effective system. In an active transportation system for kids, the vehicles are students walking, biking, using a wheelchair, or any other human powered form of movement to get to and from school. Students have design needs that are based on their physical capabilities, the way they prefer to travel, and their personal interests. Take a moment to think about how the design needs of a student walking to school might differ from that of an automobile.

The Guideway goes hand-in-hand with what we call the ‘network’, which is the collection of routes used by vehicles in a transportation system. The guideway is the built environment along the network, such as the traveling surface, street signs, and protection barriers. Most transportation systems have a set of standards for their guideway to keep the end user safe and to get them where they need to go. For example, the automobile transportation system has a set of design standards detailed in the Geometric Design Guide for Canadian Roads. In driving situations that present a high degree of potential harm, there are requirements for roads such as rumble strips, an adequate shoulder, and physical separation from other forms of traffic. An active transportation system for kids requires the same level of care for its users. The active transportation network is made up of the many routes that students use to get to and from school. Where this network intersects or parallels with a different transportation network (e.g. cars), students should be kept safe from harm. Our vision for the guideway is that all schools become ‘Active Transportation Hubs’. An Active Transportation Hub is an area of 1.6km radius around a school that is designed so that students of all ages and abilities can safely walk/wheel to and from school. Within Active Transportation Hubs are ‘Student Streets’, which are routes to school that are safe, convenient, and attractive to kids.

The Operations are the supporting activities that must occur so that the system can operate effectively. Think again about taking the bus. What are the operations that help the system run smoothly? There is a phone application to show the different bus routes, a payment system on the bus, and a driver who has been hired and trained through a human resources department. There are many operations in an active transportation system for kids. These include, but are not limited to, processes for community engagement, programming in-schools, neighbourhood planning, and data collection. Ultimately, these components are working together help more students use active transportation to get to/from school daily.

At the end of the day, what is important to remember is our aspiration. If 100% of students use active transportation to get to/from school every day, there will be healthier kids, a healthier environment, and a healthier city. Components of an active transportation system exist to help meet this aspiration. By shaping the system to meet the requirements of the end user (i.e., students), we can reach our aspiration and build a community for everyone.