The Safe Routes to School program is one of my favorites from the Obama era, but this is a good point from Charles Marohn:
Where my concern lies is not in the goal but in our approach to meeting it. Today we spend money to study and then, in some cases, to retrofit existing school zones to accommodate bikers and walkers. There is an entire pyramid of bureaucracy set up around implementing the program, from actual government employees down through a chain of consultants and local implementation managers. I’ve interacted with all layers of this system in all manner of community and one thing has struck me as notable: I’ve never seen one of these people involved when a new school location is being determined […] We spend tens of millions each year (a ridiculously small sum given the size of the task) in an attempt to retrofit schools to be walkable. Would it not be far more effective to simply locate new schools in areas that are already “safe”? Of course it would be, so why is nobody advocating for this?
The big issue here is parking. Many municipalities require schools to provide enough parking spaces to accommodate all staff members and 12th graders, and many don’t charge for parking permits, or only charge a negligible sum. The requirement that schools provide a huge free surface parking lot precludes more schools from being built in denser walkable areas that neighborhood kids can walk or bike to, and forces districts to locate them in places that are more convenient for hundreds of people to reach by car.