School health in action:

Common ground for active travel

Encouraging safe and active travel makes it easy for students to get active on the journey between school and home. The Common Ground project really gets kids moving and brings this to life; it is a story of local efforts to support active travel—human-powered ways of moving between school and home (like walking, running, or wheeling with scooters, in-line skates, bicycles, skateboards, or wheelchairs).

Formally, the project is called Common Ground: Mobilizing Edmonton School Jurisdictions as Active Transportation LeadersIt's a partnership between Edmonton Catholic School Division (ECSD), Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) and Ever Active Schools (EAS), with support from the City of Edmonton and funding from the Alberta EcoTrust Foundation.  

Let's take a look at what Common Ground has done so far.


System level leadership

To kick off the project, ECSD and EPSB leaders in transportation and facility planning gathered for professional learning led by EAS. These sessions guided participants through EAS' core publication on active travel to school, Active school travel: Policy and practice recommendations for Alberta school jurisdictions.

After taking part in discussions and problem-solving activities, each leader identified specific actions they would take to strengthen active travel within their school authority. Some solutions proved to be easy, while others were more complex and resource-intensive.

Here are some of the strategies they identified:

  • Updating the wording in existing policies to be more supportive of active travel—for example, shifting from punitive language to positive language:
    • From students are not permitted to ride bicycles on division property
    • To students are encouraged to ride bicycles, scooters, and or/skateboards to and from school, and must dismount and walk with equipment when on division property
  • Providing high-level support for school-wide participation in active travel events (like International Walk to School Week, Winter Walk Day, and Wheel Week
  • Designing new school builds and renovations to incorporate safe active travel—for example:
    • Creating drop-off zones away from main entrances
    • Linking on-site school access routes to community pathways and sidewalks
    • Offering secure storage for bikes, scooters, and skateboards in areas with strong surveillance (like at main entrances)


School residency programs

As part of the Common Ground project, each school authority also identified three elementary or junior high schools to take part in an EAS Active Travel Residency Program. Each school community agreed to use the School travel planning toolkit to create a plan for active travel. They were encouraged to customize their plans to address local strengths, challenges, and context.

Students played leadership roles throughout the residency program. They collected data and used it to brainstorm ideas for change. They took charge of testing solutions and measuring impact. 

Students at Svend Hansen School (EPSB) mapped active travel routes in the community.

Students at David Thomas King School took part in city cycling strategies clinics.


Putting it together: The 5Es

With coordinated action at both the system and school levels, ECSD and EPSB have experienced a surge in active travel innovation. Many of these actions align with best practices to encourage safe and active travel (the 5Es). For example: 


  • Installing traffic calming infrastructure
  • Reducing vehicle congestion by moving drop-off zones, repurposing temporary loading zones, and drawing attention to idle-free zones
  • Improving pathway and sidewalk maintenance in the winter


  • Offering active travel maps on school websites, with recommended routes for walking and wheeling
  • Educating students and families about safe use of drop-off zones and Edmonton's Be Idle Free Bylaw using student-led presentations, videos, and social media
  • Hosting cycling education clinics for students and staff


  • Developing active school travel calendars for all schools to use, with information on theme days, resources, and how to register for events 
  • Promoting Winter Walk Day, Earth Day, and Wheel Week as "try-it days," where students and staff are encouraged to try a new form of active travel


  • Partnering with AMA School Safety Patrol
  • Organizing students to document unsafe driving and parking practices near the school and share their findings with school administration and council


  • Involving students and families in site audits (to demonstrate how a school zone is designed to be used), and real-time observations (to show how it's actually being used), and using this information to identify improvements
  • Collecting air quality data to understand the impact of vehicle congestion and idling on air quality in school zones 


Looking ahead

Common Ground has united many of Edmonton's school authority leaders, school staff, students, and families in changing the culture of commuting to and from school. The project's unique blend of system-level and school-level support for active travel has been transformative. In particular, schools involved in hosting "try-it days" have reported at least a 25% increase in active travel to school.

Going forward, both ECSD and EPSB plan to build on their successes. They'll continue to support active travel with system-level leadership, influence, and innovation. They'll also share key learnings from the residency program so that more schools can spark local change.

Feeling inspired?

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