TransFormCA is one of the leading voices in transportation reform in the Bay Area. Based in Alameda county, TransForm operates on a number of levels, both in the community as leaders of the Safe Walks to School movement, and through advocacy work in the local halls of power.

They are also one of the five street safety charities participating in GJEL’s Winter Charity Contest (Vote here!). We’ll be interviewing someone from each organization this week, starting yesterday with MADD California Executive Director Gary McDonald.

To learn more about TransForm, we chatted with Nora Cody, who runs the Safe Routes to School program, about her work with Oakland and Alameda county schools, TransForm’s vision of transportation reform and how to get kids walking to school, even in the winter months.

GJEL: Tell us a bit about your Safe Routes to School program, which helps schools and families develop safe ways for kids to bike and walk to school.

TRANSFORM: Well Safe routes now biggest program. We’re in all of Alameda county serving 80 schools. Every school signed up for a Walk to School Day. We’re trying to promote walking school buses (one parent walks many kids to and from school, sort of a walking carpool).

We just got some great news that Alameda county received more than 2 mil from federal Safe Routes to School grants to improve street safety. Every year or two there are opportunities for cities and counties to compete for infrastructure and non-infrastructure funding. We have worked closely with the city and county in applying for those grants and this time they did really well.

GJEL: So what does this mean for the community?

TRANSFORM: There’s a total of 5 projects in alameda county that got funded, including one project specifically for low income schools in East and West Oakland, which will fund student traffic safety patrol to train fourth and fifth graders to help the walking safety program.

GJEL: I imagine it’s a little trickier getting people excited about walking in the winter

TRANSFORM: We try to compensate by promoting winter appropriate actions. We have themes every month so in winter it’s “Be visible, Be seen.” You know, wear your bright colors. So we have an event where the Walk to School Day theme is to wear really light and bright colors, or reflective clothing, so you can be seen on the walk home. We also have a canned food drive in December and January, kids bring a can of food on the walk to school.

GJEL: What are your latest projects for Safe Routes?

TRANSFORM: One thing we’re doing to help with that is our program is trying to get information on where everyone lives then populate these big maps with dots that will show you where the clusters of residences are. Then the maps will be used to illustrate in a very graphic way how you can create walking groups or carpoooling groups or riding groups. It makes a bigger impact when people can look at a map and see how close everyone is.

We piloted it at a school where a principal made the map, and I remember this parent who was leaving and looked at the map and said “look how many people are driving to school who could be walking!” And I just saw a light bulb go off in a way that it doesn’t when you just try to explain it to people.

GJEL: You work in mostly low-income areas, what are some of the specific challenges there?

TRANSFORM: One middle school we’re working with is trying to create some pretty big walking groups because they have a program where kids must stay until 5PM, so parents were concerned about them walking home in the dark and actually were having their kids come home early. So we’re having a big parent meeting to create groups to walk these kids to school.

This was a school in deep East Oakland on 98th Ave, which is an area with a lot of crime and understandably lots of concern from parents. Last year the school hired a bus to bring kids home that cost $25,000 and they couldn’t really afford it. Also, the bus was taking an hour to get the kids home, so that wasn’t a good solution. So they called us and asked us to help, and we’re really excited to be able to collaborate and they are very motivated to find a solution. It’s a community effort.

GJEL: Sounds like the schools are eager to be involved

TRANSFORM: Our program is very oriented to finding solutions that work for the school. We’re very adaptable. And we’re fortunate enough to have a staff that can work in various communities. We have a bilingual staff member who has had whole meetings with Spanish speaking parents and those parents appreciate that someone is speaking their language. We’ve been in Oakland for five years, so there’s some level of trust and understanding that we mostly work with low income schools so we understand what it takes to work in those communities.

Our program is more and more seen as a model around the country. So we’ve helped advise for safe routes programs around the country. Particularly those that are looking to implement in urban and low-income environments.

GJEL: What are some of your long-term goals?

TRANSFORM: The long-term goal is to keep the program going. We’ve been successful in getting the metropolis trans commission to fund Safe Routes to School. The other big goal is to get people to shift out of cars and into active and shared transportation: biking, walking, carpooling.

The great thing is we can attack this on many different fronts. We have people working on land use, school design issues to make sure schools are designed or not built far away from sidewalks and transit, that they are built for people to walk to. At the same time we’re trying to make public transportation more accessible and widespread. Our goal is to get 10% of the school transportation shifted away from the single-family vehicle.

GJEL: That’s great, best of luck!

TRANSFORM: Thanks! And thanks for the opportunity to get the word out about our program!

Be sure to check back this week for more interviews with some of California’s most important street safety organizations, and don’t forget to vote to help your favorite one win $1,500!

Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.