Schools aim to increase busing, carpooling

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Parents have different reasons for wanting to take their kids to and from school.

Parents have different reasons for wanting to take their kids to and from school.

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Olivia McKendrick, a fourth-grader at Strawberry Park Elementary School, looks out the window of her school bus as she waits for the bus to leave Wednesday. The school district is seeking ways to increase the number of students riding the bus, carpooling and walking and riding bikes to school.

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Second-grader Sydney Weber, left, and third-grader Taylor Wiese play with a bouncy ball during the bus ride home from school Wednesday. The school district sent surveys to Strawberry Park parents asking them why they opt not to use the bus or why their children don't walk or bike to school.

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Sixth-grader Iain Grant waits for his stop on the bus ride home from school Wednesday. A school transportation survey sent home with parents asks questions such as "Would your student ride the bus if the time on the bus was shorter?"

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Elementary school students discuss their afternoon activities during the bus ride home from school Wednesday. The Steamboat Springs school district is seeking ways to increase the number of students who ride buses, carpool and walk and bike to school.

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School buses sit outside Strawberry Park Middle School waiting for students to finish classes Wednesday. Strawberry Park is holding a contest for the fourth quarter to track the number of days students ride the bus, carpool or walk or bike to school.

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A school bus sitting outside Strawberry Park Middle School is reflected in its own mirror Wednesday. School district transportation director Ed Dingledine said increasing bus ridership is a priority of his.

— Danielle Skov said she and her children are lucky. They live close to the Strawberry Park campus, so walking to school is easy.

But Skov and other Strawberry Park Elementary School parents are trying to urge more children to walk, ride bikes, carpool or get on the bus to school. The Strawberry Park Green Team created an initiative - and contest - to cut down on the number of vehicles and carbon monoxide at Strawberry Park's campus before and after school.

It's an idea Skov and other parents hope will spark a generation of children to think about environmental stewardship.

"Kids are definitely talking about it," said Skov, who added classrooms are tracking the number of days students ride the bus, carpool, walk or ride bikes to campus in a contest for the fourth quarter. "I think they understand why this is important, and they are excited about it. : The hope was, if we do (this contest) for a full quarter, it would create habits."

An additional part of the initiative is a survey distributed to parents at Strawberry Park asking them why they opt not to use the school buses or why children don't walk or ride bikes to school. The survey results are due back May 4, and a drawing will be held to encourage parent participation in the survey.

"We want to see the things we can change that will help increase bus ridership, walking and riding bikes," Skov said. "We realize this is a district issue. As we start digging in, it becomes a bigger issue. You don't want to force anything on anyone, but this may make people think."

Survey results

Ed Dingledine, Steamboat Springs School District's transportation director, said he's eager to see the results.

Increasing bus ridership is one of his priorities. There are about 1,900 students in Steamboat's public schools, and about 800 of those students ride buses to and from school.

It's a "fairly typical" percentage, said Dingledine, who factored in the high school students who traditionally stop riding the bus and the elementary and middle school students who live in close proximity to their schools and walk or ride their bikes.

Steamboat has a fleet of 20 school buses and runs 13 regular bus routes daily. The routes run within the boundaries of Routt County Road 14A and C.R. 14B near Stagecoach to the south, C.R. 33 and C.R. 41 behind Emerald Mountain to the southwest, Milner to the west and Seedhouse Road near Clark to the north.

"The Milner route does approximately 100 miles a day," Dingledine said. "Seven a.m. is the earliest pickup. The latest drop off is 4:25 and 4:30, so they are on the bus a little over an hour. As school districts go, that's not uncommon. It takes a long time to drive a bus and stop and pick up people. If we had more routes, we could probably make things shorter, but then we get into budgetary issues."

The school district also picks up and drops off students within city limits, which isn't the case in all public school districts.

Dingledine hopes the survey results provide direction for the transportation department to improve services.

Dingledine said questions on the survey include, "Would your student ride the bus if the time on the bus was shorter?" and "Is bullying a problem on the bus?"

Other survey questions address concerns about students walking or riding their bikes to and from school.

Soda Creek Elementary School was approached about participating in a similar transportation contest as the one at Strawberry Park, but Soda Creek staff are so busy packing for this summer's move out of the building that the school passed on the idea.

Transportation headaches

The move from Soda Creek to a temporary school facility at the George P. Sauer Human Services Center begins immediately after school dismisses for the summer.

Streets surrounding the temporary Soda Creek site are expected to field an influx of parked cars and vehicular and foot traffic. The school district held two poorly attended community forums for neighborhood residents, and officials expect to hold more forums in the coming weeks and months to discuss combining student safety with practical solutions to the potential traffic flow and parking headache.

Todd Ficken, owner's representative for the school district during its myriad of construction projects in the coming years, said he is in the process of working on a plan.

"The ball is in my court on that," Ficken said. "I don't have plans developed, but we are working on it as we speak. There are a lot of people to talk to."

Without formalized plans, it's too early to project what will happen. There has been talk about making streets one-way at certain times of day and having teachers use commuter lots and riding city buses to work.

"I definitely want to have something in place by the end of the year," Dingledine said. "I want to know. My staff needs to know. Concerned people need to know by the end of the school year."

Two things are certain.

First, there will be a shortage of on-street parking because the Seventh Street site also houses the district offices and the offices for the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Second, the large volume of construction projects slated to begin downtown this summer - coupled with downtown businesses already open - will put commuter lot parking and on-street parking downtown and on Pine and Aspen streets at a premium.

"The only discussions we have had have been preliminary and have been more inquiries than any major dialogue," said Jim Weber, the city's director of public works.

Weber said the school projects won't get lost in the circle of construction projects.

"The big thing public works will be looking at is traffic management, parking, where buses are coming in and do we make a temporary one-way loop to facilitate?" Weber said. "I believe they are not that far away. The devil's in the details."

Weber added school safety is the trump card in all the discussions.

George Krawzoff, director of Steamboat Springs Transit, will factor into the discussions, but city buses won't.

"It always appears that there is a natural connection between school buses and municipal buses, but federal laws draw bright lines between those two," Krawzoff said. "We are not allowed to run school transportation."

School bus seats are closer together, and there is more padding on the seats, which are two reasons municipal buses aren't up to code for schools.

Return surveys

Dingledine expects to adjust bus routes next year to accommodate the new Soda Creek site. Most buses coming into town will stop at Soda Creek to drop off students first, eliminating the need to go to the high school and Strawberry Park before shuttling to Soda Creek. That may entice more Soda Creek children to ride the bus.

Bus popularity is a problem Dingledine said he would willingly deal with.

"I'd love to have the dilemma of adding more routes," he said.

It's a situation that would excite Skov and other Strawberry Park parents, as well.

Skov's final plea: "Please return the surveys."

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