Low-income youth already face huge challenges when it comes to succeeding in school. Just getting to school shouldn’t be one of them.
Yet throughout California, it’s often too perilous - and in some places impossible - for kids in disadvantaged communities to get to school safely without a car. But as owning a car becomes more costly by the month, low-income families are facing an expensive and unjust barrier to educational opportunities.
In Merced, where 75% of enrolled students come from families whose low household income qualifies them for free or reduced school lunches, a cut in local school bus services forced students to walk up to five miles each way to get to school. With no crosswalks or sidewalks for them to use, kids in this San Joaquin Valley city have to cross busy freeway intersections alongside speeding cars and trudge through rural fields that turn muddy and treacherous in the rainy seasons.
Meanwhile, high school students in the Bay Area community of San Lorenzo who live close enough to ride their bikes to school must do so at their own risk. Because San Lorenzo High School is dangerously framed by highways, freeway overpasses, and busy boulevards with no bike lanes, kids who bike are in constant danger of being hit by speeding traffic every morning and afternoon. And like in Merced, a majority of these students (66% in the San Lorenzo Unified School District) qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch.
Getting to and from school shouldn’t depend on a family’s income, and it should never be a life-or-death scenario. TransForm has been working to make it safer and more affordable for every child to access their education for years, through our Safe Routes to School program and advocacy efforts. Now, we’re co-sponsoring SB 1151, a state bill to further invest in our kids’ safety on the way to school.
Children are overwhelmingly the victims of car collisions near schools, especially in low-income communities where there are no safe sidewalks or bike lanes. SB 1151 seeks to curb this dangerous trend by charging drivers an additional fine for committing a moving violation in a school zone, similar to the double fine in a construction zone that protects construction workers.
The fines collected by SB 1151 would fund walking and biking projects through the newly-created Active Transportation Program (ATP) – improvements like well-lit streets with plenty of sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes that make it safer to walk, bike, or roll to school.
That’s especially good news for low-income students, as at least 25% of funds in the ATP are required to be used in ways that benefit disadvantaged communities. By making streets and neighborhoods in low-income communities more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, SB 1151 would give families more alternatives to getting their kids to school without a car, and could save them hundreds of dollars on gas each month.
As the cost of driving gets more expensive, we need to make sure that low-income neighborhoods have equal access to safe, affordable alternatives to cars, so that all children can safely get to school. The future of California depends on it.
To help make our streets safer for kids to get to school, take a moment right now to send an email to Governor Brown in support of SB 1151.
For more information, contact TransForm’s State Policy Director Josh Stark.