Bill proposing later school start raises traffic concerns

Fremont Union High School District schools to remain open in current air quality conditions.Fremont Union High School District schools to remain open in current air quality conditions.

Traffic safety advocates are debating a proposed law — SB-328 — that would require middle schools and high schools throughout California to start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The concern is over the potential that a later, standardized start time may push school commuters into rush hour traffic, exacerbating congestion and posing safety risks in local cities, according to a recent blog post by Larry Dean, advisory committee member for Walk-Bike Cupertino.

Dean didn’t take a position on the matter and rather presented viewpoints for his readers to consider.

“Traffic safety advocates in Palo Alto state this would negatively affect traffic in Palo Alto, and David Stillman, Cupertino Civil Engineer, shares these concerns about the proposed change,” Dean wrote.

On the other hand, Dean said, local supporters of the legislation such as Bike-Pedestrian Commissioner Jennifer Shearin say in part that later school times would promote biking and walking during the winter, when students commute in the dark.

The legislation’s supporters, which includes the American Academy of Pediatrics, cite scientific studies showing teens are more alert, less tardy, and more likely to graduate if they were able to sleep in a bit longer. Opponents, including the California School Boards Association, argue the legislation is too rigid and would clash with the work schedules of many parents.

If the bill becomes law, it will go effect in July of 2020.

Dean encouraged residents to review the issue and send comments — either for or against — to local elected officials.


1 Comment on "Bill proposing later school start raises traffic concerns"

  1. Those of us who bike a lot know that when you start to pedal you wake up because your heart and lungs start working harder–sending blood to your brain. You can’t bike sleepy. It just doesn’t work that way. The exercise wakes kids up and prepares them to learn better in school (research shows this). Exercise also enables better sleep, so it would be great to amend the bill so that it does not negatively impact healthy, active commutes–as the current language will.

    As for riding in the dark–That’s nonsense–at least for my community. At Gunn High School, for example, winter bike counts do go down some in winter due to weather, but generally we maintain 650-750 bikes per day even during the coldest, wettest part of the year(compared to 830 per day in peak season). I volunteer running events to encourage bicycling during winter. That means I have to arrive at school BEFORE the kids. It is not dark before 8:00am when I arrive. However, I think it is important to acknowledge that a later start time probably will necessitate a later end time–and that will push after-school activities later–probably causing more students to ride in the dark after school.

    Our earliest secondary school start time is 8:10 and our latest is 8:25. We stagger start times on school routes where multiple schools share routes to separate bell time traffic surges to ensure student safety and minimize congestion impacts. Further, we try to time school commutes so that students are off the road before morning peak traffic hour starts at 8:30am. Palo Alto’s population more than doubles every work day–and those inbound regional commuters use many of our school commute routes. Keeping kids separate from the rush of thousands of motor vehicles is important for student health and safety. It separates them from increased potential for collisions with motor vehicles. It separates them from motor vehicle exhaust fumes–for a healthier, safer commute. This legislation, as it is currently written, will push ALL of our secondary school students into rush hour traffic. This will create serious safety and congestion problems for the kids on our school routes.

    Palo Alto asked that proponents and the state to take time to study school commute safety and congestion impacts of this legislation as it is currently written and develop a thoughtful amendment that will give school districts and cities the flexibility we need to balance student sleep and safety needs–especially in communities like ours where thousands of students walk and bike to school. I hope they will do this.

    The fact is The American Academy of Pediatrics NEVER looked at these school commute impacts on students–nor did the other bill proponents. This was an honest error, but now that they know about the problems the bill’s current language will create for student health and safety, I hope they will either accept Palo Alto’s suggested amendment or take time to study the traffic safety/congestion problems and work with communities on an amendment that will best serve students’ health and safety needs.

    Pediatricians make better doctors than lawyers. I believe they are well-intended and I support efforts to get bell times in closer compliance with the recommendations of adolescent sleep research, but this bill (as it is currently written) is too narrow in its focus and will have unintended consequences that will HARM students.

    Sadly, SB-328 has run under the radar because it is listed as an attendance item. It has real transportation implications–and these should be studied and addressed for the sake of our foot-powered kids.

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