Québec: A Profile of Promising Practices from Canada and Abroad – On the move to school!

“Kids who walk to school not only improve their fitness, but also improve the quality of their environment.”

Lead Organization:
Vélo Québec

Key Partners:
Schools, parents, police departments, local government, public health

Community:
85 schools in ten communities in Québec in 2008-09

Population of Community:
Varies

Setting:
Urban, semi-urban and rural

Target Group:
Elementary school children

Project Focus:
Improving children’s health and raising community interest in the health, environmental and safety benefits of active transportation

Implementation Level:
Provincial

Stage of Development:
Ongoing

Background

“On the move to school!” is an educational active transportation program that aims to improve walking and cycling conditions for elementary school children and raise community interest in the health, environmental and safety aspects of active transportation. Originally implemented in eight schools in Greater Montréal, the program now extends to 85 schools in ten communities throughout Québec.

“On the move to school!” was inspired by Sustrans’ “Safe Routes to Schools” program, created more than ten years ago in Great Britain (please see the Resources section at the end of this case study for more information). “On the move to school!” aims to address the issue of increasing car use by families and the sedentary lifestyle of many school-aged children, by motivating key decision-makers to improve walking and cycling conditions around schools. In 1971, eight out of ten Canadian children walked or biked to school. In Greater Montréal today, less than four out of ten students rely on active transportation (e.g., walking, cycling or in-line skating) to get to school.

Following the success of the initial pilot project in 2005-2006, Vélo Québec decided to make “On the move to school!” a permanent program. Making health a priority is a natural and logical progression of work undertaken by Vélo Québec over the years – their expertise in active transportation and province-wide reputation have helped to build credibility and achieve the goals of the program.

Partnerships

The pilot project was backed by an Advisory Committee comprised of: the City of Montréal, the Commission Scolaire de Montréal, the Association of Physical Educators of Québec, Montréal Public Health Branch, police, and transportation organizations.

In each community that receives the program, Vélo Québec forms key partnerships with the local schools, parents, police, and municipal government. But many other partners are integral to the success of this program and play a variety of roles, including:

  • Providing funding, in-kind contributions and promotion of the program;
  • Endorsing Vélo Québec at other regional tables; and
  • Making recommendations that align with priorities and projects that are already in place – and in turn contributing to the project’s success.

Key decision-makers that oversee the project approach are Vélo Québec, its regional partners (who provide the program outside greater Montréal), and the principals of the participating schools. The success of the project depends upon their collaboration.

Partners have proven to be critical in helping build a realistic picture of what can be accomplished in each community. With the right partners, there is a greater chance that changes to neighbourhoods and changes in behaviour will be realized. Building connections with those who are already taking action can help to ensure the success of the project.


Photo Credit: Didier Bertrand

Generating Buy-In

In Québec, there is political support in principle for active transportation and healthy living, but not yet a lot of support for on-the-ground action. However, as awareness about this issue grows, more and more funding is becoming available.

The only resistance encountered during the program was a concern amongst those in the schools implementing the program that it would add to their workload. It is important to demonstrate that this program will enhance quality of life, and not be a burden. Today, schools have many responsibilities, so there is a need to integrate active transportation programs with activities already happening at the school.

Planning & Implementation

A Vélo Québec specialist works with each participating school to assess the safety problems in the area around the school and to identify possible solutions. Through meetings with local stakeholders, they determine what is already in place and what is needed. Each school receives a map of the neighbourhood marked with the locations of the student’s homes. This map is used to analyze the area, identify issues and begin to propose concrete solutions to improve walking and cycling conditions in the area.


Photo Credit: Didier Bertrand

The next step is to work with the municipality to modify the urban environment of the school and neighbourhood. This may involve the installation of bicycle parking facilities or other infrastructure likely to encourage active transportation among students.

Vélo Québec has a range of tools and activities to offer to the schools. The project team works with the school and the parents to determine those tools and activities that will best suit their needs. Other communication tools include a brochure, a newsletter, and workshops for families on urban cycling. Vélo Québec also publishes a program magazine, “L’aller-retour,” containing games, comics and tips on active transportation which is distributed to participating kids two times a year.

In the end, enjoyment and quality of life are the central goals of “On the move to school!” The program’s tools and activities are intended to encourage families to rediscover the pleasure of outdoor recreation and active transportation.

Lessons Learned

For Vélo Québec, the key to success has been investing energy into building partnerships at the beginning. In each community, the Vélo Québec specialists work with the local players to lay a good foundation. The “On the move to school!” team provides support to the school over the first three years, at which time a transition is made and the responsibility is handed over to the community. The goal is that, at the end of this time, the partnerships will be cemented and the program will run autonomously. The success of the project rests on Vélo Québec’s ability to empower the schools themselves.

Lessons learned in partnership building include:

  • Go on-site to the schools and mobilize the school and the parents;   
  • Build a team with key players to get things on the ground faster;
  • Remember that there are many types of partners – e.g., those who provide financing, those who help with promotion and marketing and those who open doors and give resources; and
  • Stay flexible. Partnerships that do not seem initially well-aligned may prove fruitful in the end.

Advice to Other Communities

This project has proven to be very adaptable to different communities. The key is getting to know and understand the environment in question. Each school is unique and will have its own active transportation needs and priorities.

Vélo Québec has already reached out to urban, semi-urban and rural communities. The versatility of the program means it can happen at any scale, as long as there is an understanding that the solutions need to be adapted to each location. For example, semi-urban settings tend to revolve around car use, and pedestrian routes are often poorly connected. In rural areas of Québec, a village may have one road and often no sidewalks. In some areas, the solution may be as simple as removing snow from sidewalks on the route to school. Each community will need to identify its issues, and find its own solutions to promoting active transportation to school.

Evaluation and Impact

In its first two years alone, the program reached out to over 12,000 students and their parents. While health outcomes as a result of this project will need to be evaluated over the long term, it is already apparent that attitudes are changing. In September 2008, the “On the move to school!” program connected with a research team at the Université de Montréal. The researchers plan to study changes in attitude and behaviour that result from this program over the next three years.

It is clear that this skilfully managed program is raising awareness across Québec about the health-supporting benefits of active transportation for children and families. Vélo Québec hopes to extend “On the move to school!” to all regions of Québec by 2015.

Contact

Annick St-Denis
Active Transportation Director
Vélo Québec
1251 Rachel Street East
Montréal, Québec H2J 2J9
Telephone: 514-521-8356, ext 347
E-mail: astdenis@velo.qc.ca

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