Monona parent survey identifies concerns over students commuting to and from school

UW-Madison students create recommendations for transportation improvements thanks to parental survey results

Author

Devin R. Larsen

Contributors

Shelly Strom, Marshall Curry

Metrics

Community
City of Monona, WI, United States
Community Size
8,045 (2018 Census Estimation)
University
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Program
UniverCity Year
Years
2016/2017
Status
Completed
Region
EPA Region 5, USA

The City of Monona, Wisconsin, has many attributes that make it an exciting community to live in. Even while being a part of the Greater Madison, WI, Area, the city acts as a retreat for many residents, with an abundance of natural parks, shoreline views of Lake Monona, and its overall small-town feel. The city is great for active residents, as it offers an abundance of options for walking and biking: the city’s street grid pattern favors ease of transportation and many families live within walking and biking distance to nearby schools. 

Yet while the city’s street structure is advantageous to bicyclists and pedestrians, many Monona residents have cited other features that can make it unsafe, whether for pedestrians or for drivers. In order to understand these unsafe features, the City of Monona would have to conduct in-depth surveys with residents to identify their concerns. 

The UniverCity Year program of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an EPIC-Network member, was created to help local government and community partners with identified sustainability and livability projects. Participating University faculty incorporate community-identified projects into classes, and provide students with on-the-ground experience in support of a more sustainable and livable future for the partnered community. 

During the 2016 to 2017 academic year, the City of Monona was chosen to partner with the UniverCity Year program due to its proximity to the university and for strong support from Mayor Bob Miller. 

UW-Madison students assess school safety routes

The UniverCity Year program partnered UW-Madison’s graduate-level course, Urban & Regional Planning 912: Planning Workshop, with the City of Monona to survey parents about their preferences and concerns regarding their children walking and biking to and from school. With the guidance of Professor Kurt Paulsen, students sought to learn more about existing policies within Monona pertaining to walking and biking pathways and patterns. 

Prior to conducting their surveys, students consulted Brad Bruun, geographic information systems (GIS) specialist for the City of Monona, to identify the “need of bike counts, observational audits, and a parent/guardian survey. 

Parents avoid having their children bike and walk to school due to safety concerns 

Student surveys produced many different findings, most of which included parental reasons for avoiding having their children walk or bike to school. One such finding was that while 50 percent of students could walk to school in less than 20 minutes, and 70 percent of students could bike to school within 15 minutes, only 23 percent of students do so. Parents cited concerns over the lack of sidewalks, speed of traffic, and the amount of traffic on populated roads as reasons why a low percentage of students biked and walked to school. More insight concerning the results produced by collected surveys can be found at https://parentsurvey.github.io/.

Increasing student safety while commuting to and from school 

Recommendations to solve these commuting concerns included some of the following:

  • Passing a Complete Streets ordinance, which can implement “widened shoulders for walking and biking, rustic off-road paths, or traffic calming devices,” to create a safer pedestrian and cycling experience
  • Pass an ordinance that follows the safety guidelines of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)
  • Encourage the Monona Grove School District to “adopt language in its Wellness Policy” which encourages walking and biking to and from school

Thanks to UW-Madison students, Strand and Associates—Madison, WI, engineering consultant—has since started preparing a bike and pedestrian plan informed by UniverCity Year projects guided by Brad Bruun. With this information and subsequent plans, the City of Monona can begin implementing actionable ordinances which can increase the safety of transportation on busy streets for younger students, pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers alike.

Read the full story of the partnership.

Read the final student report delivered to the local gov/community partner.

“I appreciate the city conducting a survey about the issue. I wish it were safer for my kids to walk or bike to school, but without sidewalks and with how distracted drivers are today with their phones and being in a rush and so on, it worries me too much to ever let them do this alone, even when they are much older.”