Testimony on Bill 24–66, the Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2021 (October 12, 2021)
Thank you to the members of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, and Committee of the Whole for allowing me time to testify on Bill 24–66, the Safe Passage to School Expansion Act of 2021. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am proud to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education. I have three requests of the Council as you consider this proposed legislation.
First, I ask that you add elements to the legislation to address the range of dangers students face as they travel from home to school. “Safe passage” has long been used to denote the need to keep our DC students safe from various human interactions when traveling on foot or via transit. This includes instances of street harassment, bullying, and physical violence far too many of our students have experienced when traveling to and from school. But, as we have all seen too often in recent weeks, our students are also in danger from vehicular dangers when traveling. Whether walking, biking or scooting, whether crossing the street from a bus stop, metro station or a private vehicle, our students are also in danger from reckless drivers each and every day. I do not think one of these dangers is greater than another, but I firmly believe that we owe all of our students and families safe passage along safe routes to school however they make the journey.
Second, I ask that you align your suggested Safe Passage expansion to the District’s work on addressing traffic violence via Vision Zero. DC is home to more than 240 public schools across all eight wards. If DDOT were to work to address known safety concerns adjacent to each and every one of these schools, we would blanket the city with safer traffic infrastructure that would protect the safety of our students, their families and all DC road users. This might look like additional crosswalk visibility, additional crossing guards, raised speed tables around school crossings, “traffic diets” for major corridors that schools call home, or “school streets” which would divert vehicle traffic away from schools during drop-off and pick-up times. I also ask that you direct DDOT to make easily accessible to the public a listing of the existing TSAs and any planned work in the pipeline to address known areas of traffic concern. (I understand that DDOT is making an announcement with the Mayor at 10am and hope perhaps they announce such plans today!)
Finally, I ask that you consider even more comprehensive and creative solutions to ensure student safety en route to school. Creating a new office and providing details on grants and a shuttle program are a fine start. I offer two additional ideas, but I encourage you to ask students what else might be beneficial to them. The Student Representatives and Student Advisory Committee of the SBOE are trusted sources of information and ideas for SBOE members. I know they would be happy to help the Council in further developing this legislation.
- Work closely with WMATA to review & adjust MetroBus routes to better serve DC schools. As a major source of ridership, our students and families deserve priority in planning route adjustments & expansions. We should advocate for WMATA to prioritize them in an annual review process based on travel data.
- Ensure that school communities are involved in the vetting process for any & all Safe Passage grantees. Relationships between students and the adults supporting their safety are critical. Involving students, school staff and families in the grant selection process can help ensure relationships will stay at the forefront of the awards process.
Thank you for your time and consideration.