School district's solar project drives another 'Green' campaign

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
GreenTown Los Altos leader Margaret Suozzo, left, speaks to students about cycling to school during the Santa Rita School Bobcat Chase in August.

Better factor in an extra time cushion to the daily school drop-off and pick-up routine.

Monday marked the start of solar panel installation at Los Altos School District campuses, and the construction in school parking lots could mean minor disruptions to traffic flow while parking is limited.

To mitigate problems, local grassroots group GreenTown Los Altos is working with the district to dampen four-wheel demand.

“We saw this as a huge opportunity to push walking, biking and carpooling at the schools,” said Margaret Suozzo of the GreenTown leadership team.

GreenTown’s Walk or Wheel (WoW!) program has gained traction at the schools in recent years, Suozzo said, and the solar panel project is a chance to invigorate participation and further meet the initiative’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Leading up to installation, GreenTown volunteers met with PTA leads from each of the schools, and they conducted a districtwide survey of caregivers in September to identify interests and concerns. They also developed site-specific program plans to help each campus reduce single-family vehicle traffic while increasing walking/biking/carpooling participation; the goal is 50 percent participation for most of the elementary schools and 75 percent participation for the junior high schools.

Students at schools that meet their goal will be treated to some sort of celebration courtesy of the school district, said Randy Kenyon, Los Altos School District assistant superintendent for business services.

“I think the more traffic we can get off of our streets, the better for our bikers and walkers and the better for our climate too,” Kenyon said.

Encouragement program

Since 2009, the school district has collected student transportation data by twice-yearly surveys, and the results indicate that caregivers and students can be galvanized into ditching the single-family vehicle routine. At Loyola School, for example, 359 students were surveyed about their mode of transportation en route to class on Walk to School Day in October last year. Approximately 71 percent walked, biked or scootered, approximately 2 percent carpooled and approximately 27 percent traveled by single-family vehicle. But when 438 Loyola students took the same survey in May without the organized fanfare of Walk to School Day, approximately 36 percent walked, biked or scootered, approximately 9 percent carpooled and approximately 56 percent traveled by single-family motor vehicle (due to rounding, the total equates to 101 percent).

To reach WoW! and carpool participation goals, GreenTown volunteers are targeting both caregivers and students during a two-week encouragement program. Caregivers idling in student pick-up queues can expect to encounter volunteers passing out informational postcards and rewarding drivers who pledge to WoW! or carpool with promotional window clings. Students can expect encouragement through free treats and snacks and will be asked to graph their mode of transportation with color-coded stickers they affix to sandwich boards.

Some school campus locations are more conducive to walking and biking than others constrained by busy roads, so GreenTown is advocating carpooling now more than ever, said Gary Hedden, another GreenTown leader. At the group’s suggestion, schools are generating spreadsheets of families interested in carpooling, and Hedden and Suozzo will use the information to develop electronic maps to connect like-minded neighbors.

If all goes according to plan, GreenTown’s efforts could motivate families across the district to alter their lifestyles away from the single-family vehicle routine – even after all that construction is complete in December.


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