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Bristol-Warren to Cut Back on School Buses

The Bristol Phoenix reported in its June 2nd edition that the Bristol-Warren School District intends to cut back on as many as five school buses due to half-empty seats. To accommodate doing this without leaving anyone out, the district is asking parents to register their students as either using or not using the buses for the 2016-2017 year. Currently the school district plans bus accommodations on the assumption that all students who are not 'walkers' will use the bus, which is normal procedure for all Rhode Island school districts.

Reducing buses in this way could save the district $500,000 per year, helping it to balance its budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

What's interesting about the report is that it seems to view parental driving as the main way to pick up the slack from children not using yellow buses:
These days, many families drive their children to school pick them up after school. School drop-off zones and procedures resemble Logan Airport on a weekday morning. At the high school, when students reach driving age (or their friends do), they stop riding buses altogether.
The report goes on:
Ms. Silva [Finance Director] sees a practical upside. Fewer buses on the roads means fewer buses on the roads [sic]-- less congestion and traffic interruptions for Bristol and Warren commuters.
I wouldn't dispute that removing buses removes congestion and pollution, and I've pointed out in a Providence context that there is a huge cost associated with seeing busing as the main way of getting students from here to there. But changing out buses for single-occupancy driving isn't likely to help improve congestion.

There's a great inset (nerd attack!) of statistics on who does or does not use the buses:
Rockwell Elementary                           50% ridership, 3 buses
Colt Andrews                                         64% ridership, 7 buses
Guiteras Elementary                            56% ridership, 4 buses
Hugh Cole Elementary                         55% ridership, 8 buses
Kickemuit Middle                                 65% ridership, 14 buses
Mt. Hope High School                          39% ridership, 11 buses

When I was in high school (in Pennsylvania) we were not entitled to a parking space at my high school. I'm not sure how this affected the school buses' usage, but it did completely eliminate driving to school (except for prom-- though I walked to prom). 

British-born blogger David Hembrow, who writes about bike infrastructure in his adopted home of Assen, Netherlands, wrote a piece about British adoption of what he termed the "American" fashion of using yellow buses to transport students to and from school. The British effort to adopt yellow school buses came as a result of the realization that ""the average length of journey to school for 11-16 year-olds rose from 2.8 miles in 2000 to 3.4 miles in 2006." Hembrow points out that biking distances longer than this is routine in the Netherlands for students.

The most basic thing the school district could do to improve the mobility of students, reduce congestion, and costs for the school district would be to improve biking. Hugh Cole and Kickemuit, for instance, are both at the end of an existing bike path stub which unfortunately does not cross the water into the town center (it doesn't connect to any side streets either). 

Adding protected bike lanes to the towns of Bristol and Warren would be simple, as many main streets are very wide and could accommodate them. The East Bay Bike Path, which comes very close to the high school, could be better connected with just small improvements to sections of Rt. 114 and Chestnut Street.

The school district could also consider not giving away free parking to high school students. This would likely be resented, but if the district traded-off with students it might be better received. Mt. Hope High School is built in a hyper-modern style, almost all on one floor, and sits in the middle of a wetlands. Being able to reduce parking would help prevent runoff problems from that design (Mt. Hope did flood in 2014, but that was due to a faulty sprinkler system, rather than natural events).

A bike ride from Mt. Hope High School to the very furthest imaginable distance in Warren near the Swansea border would be 6 miles (Google estimates this as a 16 minute bike ride). Students living farther away would be more likely to choose busing as a means of getting around, which under the current registration proposal, would be their right to choose. But it shows that even the farthest-flung students are within an imaginable biking distance of school for a high school student. The area near Swansea is actually fairly sparse compared to other parts of the district, and would likely draw a smaller percentage of students than areas closer to the existing bike path.


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