Bluffton Elementary, H. E. McCracken Middle and Bluffton High Schools are located in a complex in Bluffton, South Carolina, bordered by a heavily traveled county road and surrounded by residential neighborhoods. Of the more than 1,000 students living within 1.5 miles of the complex, many are bussed to school because the lack of infrastructure prevents them from walking.
The three schools are designed for motor vehicle traffic, as opposed to pedestrians and bicyclists. To make the area safe for those walking or bicycling, infrastructure and enforcement improvements were needed before encouragement events could occur. Greater Bluffton Pathways (GBP), a local organization dedicated to increasing multi-use paths throughout the Bluffton area, has incorporated the areas surrounding the school complex into their plan. Since GBP’s involvement in 2004, three crossing guards were positioned at major crossings around the school complex, a one mile multi-use pathway was constructed along the road surrounding the school complex and a six mile long multi-use pathway has been constructed along both sides of the heavily traveled Buckwalter Parkway to connect most neighborhoods to the school complex. With their salaries funded by the Beaufort County School District and training provided by the police department, the crossing guards began to work in 2006. The multi-use paths were completed in summer 2007 with funds from the town of Bluffton and a Beaufort County sales tax that included funding for pathways.
Since 2004, the schools have participated in Bike Bus events and Walk to School Days. The second through fifth grade students can participate in the Bike Bus events after their parents sign permission slips. Generally, eight adults lead the bicyclists in three different groups and pick up participating students along the way to school. The Bike Bus starts at a nearby neighborhood and arrives at Bluffton Elementary School after crossing the busy Buckwalter Parkway. In 2006, a crossing guard was placed at this crossing. The Walk to School Days also have been a success, and the children who participate are greeted upon arrival at school by teachers and the principal. Once crossing guards were in place and the multi-use pathways were completed, interest in encouragement activities at the schools increased.
Because of the new multi-use paths and crossing guards, about 130 children from two neighborhoods currently are walking or bicycling to school. Many of the children are joined by their parents, giving parents the opportunity to meet other parents. Some of the children still do not want to walk to school because the path ends before reaching the school grounds, forcing the children to walk through dirt or grass. The next infrastructure plan will extend the pathways to the school entrance to further encourage children to walk to school. With the completed improvements and the future plans, such as giving five more neighborhoods pathway access by the end of 2007, it is expected that future Walking and Bicycling to School events will increase in participation. The schools will apply for federal SRTS funds in 2008.