Motorists should be extra-careful as Del Norte schoolchildren pound the pavement or ride their bikes to school Friday.
About 1,000 students from six schools will be walking, biking or skateboarding to school accompanied by teachers, parents and local community leaders. Bess Maxwell and Mary Peacock elementary schools, Castle Rock Charter School, Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods, Del Norte High School and McCarthy Center will join other schools nationwide to celebrate National Bike to School Day.
As an incentive for walking or biking, students will receive prizes such as reflectors they can attach to their backpacks, said Karen Phillips, spokeswoman for Safe Routes to Schools. They will be greeted by mascots such as Smokey the Bear and dignitaries including county supervisors and City Council members. Students at each school will also be entered into drawings to win a bicycle from Back Country Bicycles.
"Over at McCarthy Center students are excited about the bike drawing," Phillips said. "My little neighbor girl is excited about it. Kids feel special about it."
Friday's event was organized by the local Safe Routes to Schools team, which includes local law enforcement, the Del Norte County Unified School District, the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission, Del Norte County Public Health, the Public Health Institute, Back Country Bicycle and the California Endowment.
The Safe Routes to Schools team first met in August with the goal of collecting data to identify barriers to walking and biking to school, Phillips said. The team's goal is to alleviate those barriers.
The team sent surveys to parents and teachers in September and held its first Walk and Bike to School event in October, Phillips said. It followed up that event with a special curriculum, dubbed "bike in a box," that instructors use to teach about pedestrian and bicycle safety, she said.
The data the team collected in September has been used in a report compiled by Humboldt State University's California Center for Rural Policy under contract from the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission.
The report targets six schools in the Crescent City area. Transportation Commission Executive Director Tamera Leighton said officials believe opportunities for walking or biking at those schools are more likely to increase.
"An example is that Margaret Keating in Klamath is not likely to be a school with a high number of kids walking because of its location up the highway from neighborhoods," Leighton said.
According to the report, the biggest barrier to Del Norte students walking or biking to school is distance. Seventy-four percent of students live a half-mile or more from their school. But 67 percent of students who do live within a half-mile of school are still arriving by car, the report says.
Even though parents identified the weather as the biggest barrier to their kids walking or biking to school, most still drive their kids on sunny days, Leighton said. Other barriers include the amount and speed of traffic, the safety of intersections and street crossings and the perceived prevalence of violence and crime.
The report was partially designed to identify and prioritize infrastructure needs such as better sidewalks or more lighted crosswalks, Leighton said.
"It's an important message for our communities," Leighton said. "People say, 'Can't you just build a sidewalk, then all the kids will walk to school?' But the data report does not support some of those premises."
The Safe Routes to Schools team will likely hold more walk-to-school events with incentives for students, Leighton said. Rather than tackling the district overall, the team would focus on the target schools, she said.
Local law enforcement, including the California Highway Patrol, the Crescent City Police Department and the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office, have said they would step up patrol of school zones, Leighton said.
The Local Transportation Commission is also working on a School Zone Infrastructure Audit and Circulation Study. This will include looking at the existing infrastructure conditions for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists in school zones.
Although no official measurement will be taking place during the Walk and Bike to School event Friday, officials may be able to loosely gauge the level of participation from the slips of paper the students turn in for the bike drawing, Leighton said.
Phillips will do a second data check within the next two weeks, Leighton said.
Friday's event will begin at about 7:20 a.m. depending on the school's schedule. Kids, parents and community members will be riding or walking from home to school or from a drop-off area near the school. Cyclists and walkers will arrive at school in time for the first bell.
"Our aim is to have children who live within a half-mile to a quarter-mile begin to walk to school where possible," Phillips said. "We want to begin to break down the barriers."
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .