2 new schools deemed too dangerous to walk or bike to

Students at two recently opened elementary schools in Kanata North are being told it's simply too risky to walk or bike to class, and are being allowed to ride the bus regardless of how close they live.

Crossing Terry Fox Drive on foot is too dangerous, so even nearby children are allowed to ride the bus

Students at Kanata Highlands Public School and St. Isabel Catholic Elementary School qualify for free bus transportation because walking to school has been deemed too dangerous. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Students at two recently opened elementary schools in Kanata North are being told it's simply too risky to walk or bike to class, and are being allowed to ride the bus regardless of how close they live.

Kanata Highlands Public School on Terry Fox Drive and St. Isabel Catholic Elementary School on Goulbourn Forced Road serve the families of Morgan's Grant.

According to guidelines, elementary students living that close would normally be expected to walk to school and therefore not qualify for free bus transportation.

But in this case, walking to school involves crossing a busy and fast section of Terry Fox Drive, as well as navigating sections of new roads that don't yet have sidewalks.

Parent Lyndsay Melkin says she hopes to one day let her son walk to school alone. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

'Extremely dangerous'

Alaa Hermas, a Kanata Highlands parent, wishes his children could walk to school on their own.

"It's awful. I won't let my kids walk by themselves. It's extremely dangerous. I have concerns for myself crossing the street, let alone letting my kids cross it," Hermas said.

I would love for my kids to walk on their own. I'd like for them to be independent.- Alaa Hermas

"I would love for my kids to walk on their own. I'd like for them to be independent."

Lyndsay Melkin, a St. Isabel parent, agrees it's unsafe, but instead of putting her son on a bus, she walks him to school herself.

"It's a shame because so many people live so close, and everybody's always talking about childhood obesity, and yet everybody just has to stick their kids on the bus," she said.

Students at two recently opened elementary schools in Kanata North are being told it's too risky for them to walk to and from classes, so they're being allowed to ride the bus regardless of how close they live to their school. 0:45

'We do try to encourage walking'

The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA), which oversees getting children to and from the schools, said elementary students ideally walk or bike when they live less than 1.6 kilometres from their school.

But Vicky Kyriaco, OSTA's general manager and chief administrative officer, said staff conduct a thorough safety audit for each school to assess the risks of walking or biking, and reduce that distance if necessary.

"We do try to encourage walking as much as possible," Kyriaco said.

"In this case I think that Terry Fox is a bit of a barrier, and it's really unfortunate. There's a curve and an incline and a change in speed, and so we determined that that school community should not be crossing Terry Fox."

Delia Keating navigates Old Second Line Road with her two daughters toward St. Isabel. She says there's no way they'll walk to school in the winter. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Parents complained that drivers often rush through the intersection without yielding to pedestrians and ignore the speed limit on Terry Fox, which drops from 80 km/h to 60 km/h as the road slopes down toward Old Second Line from the west.

And when traffic is backed up, drivers are more likely to burn red lights to get through the intersection.

"They're very aggressive. With the amount of lights they have to hit, this section takes forever to get through, so they're angry," St. Isabel parent Delia​ Keating said.

Making matters worse for pedestrians is the lack of sidewalks along Old Second Line near Terry Fox, as well as on the access road leading to St. Isabel.

Parents say more traffic-calming measures are needed, such as a school zone speed limit of 40 km/h and traffic lights to give pedestrians priority.

Parents say that when traffic on Terry Fox is light, drivers go too fast, and that when there's congestion, they act aggressively. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Schools opened before infrastructure complete

St. Isabel has about 375 students and opened this September. Kanata Highlands opened in September 2016 and had 334 students in October 2017.

"We happen to have lots of children in area, and the schools in the area were overloaded," said Coun. Marianne Wilkinson.

So when a new residential development was proposed on the south side of Terry Fox Drive, it provided an opportunity to address the need for new schools.

St. Isabel, which opened in September, sits in the middle of a residential development that's still under construction. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

"The only place we had land for them was in this particular development. We allowed them to go there with some temporary servicing, just so we would have a school for the kids. It does lead to some difficulties," Wilkinson said.

She's working with city staff to improve walking conditions in the area by installing sidewalks and reducing the speed limit for a longer section of Terry Fox Drive, she said.