Access to education is a basic need—for students, families, and staff, as well as the community at large. Schools and colleges provide not only education and employment but are also sites for various community programs. In this section, we consider barriers to educational access as they relate to walkability, bikeability, transit service, safety, and congestion (we did not evaluate transit access to schools since almost all provide bus service). See our Methodology document for more information, and our Barriers to Basic Needs Map for details.
How walkable are the areas around our schools?
Most school districts in Dutchess County provide busing. However, schools that are accessible via sidewalks provide students the option of safely walking, which is a healthy way to start the day and has numerous other benefits (see sidebar).
There are 71 public school locations (grades K-12) in Dutchess County (a few schools share locations). Almost 40 percent of these are fairly walkable, with at least 20 percent sidewalk coverage; these include schools in the cities of Poughkeepsie and Beacon and most schools in villages. Another 40 percent have no sidewalks—these include schools in both suburban and rural areas. The remaining schools have limited sidewalks, which often makes walking infeasible.
Newer schools are typically built in outlying areas, due in part to school siting policies that require large amounts of land. These locations often do not have sidewalks and are not close enough to clusters of housing to make walking to school a realistic option.
How many schools have access to a rail trail?
Schools with access to a rail trail provide students the option of safely bicycling to school, which, like walking, has numerous physical, emotional, and mental health benefits. However, only three schools are within a half mile of a rail trail: Fishkill Plains Elementary in East Fishkill, Morse Elementary in the City of Poughkeepsie, and Arthur S. May Elementary in the Town of Poughkeepsie. All are near the Dutchess Rail Trail, but none have a dedicated on- or off-street connection to the trail. In other cases, such as Gayhead Elementary in East Fishkill, a school is relatively close to a rail trail, but the neighborhood streets do not connect to the trail.
How many schools are near high-crash or high-congestion locations?
Safety concerns and congestion can also present barriers to access. About 20 percent of the schools are within a half mile of a high-crash location. These include schools in the cities of Beacon and Poughkeepsie, Village of Fishkill, and towns of LaGrange, Pleasant Valley, Poughkeepsie, and Wappinger.
Only one school is near a high-congestion location: Arlington High School in LaGrange, which is adjacent to Route 55. School buses from the high school and nearby middle school contribute to the traffic on Route 55.
WHY WALK TO SCHOOL?
Research has found many benefits for walking to school. These include:
Higher academic performance
Improved alertness/ability to concentrate
Lower levels of stress
Increased happiness and relaxation
Improved physical fitness
Increased sense of independence
Reduced traffic around school, leading to improved safety and reduced air pollution
Parents often worry about students’ safety if they walk to school. However, research shows that kids are more likely to be injured when driven than when walking. Walking in groups with adult leaders (a Walking School Bus) is one common approach. Students also learn traffic safety skills by walking.
*The Poughkeepsie City School District and Beacon City School District are ‘walking districts’ that do not provide busing except in limited cases.
Kids who are supposed to walk to school don't because the routes aren't safe. So, parents drive them. That causes a whole lot of other issues.
- Moving Dutchess Forward survey
How walkable are the areas around our colleges?
There are six colleges in Dutchess County: Dutchess Community College (DCC), DCC-South (soon to be located in Fishkill), Marist College, Bard College, Vassar College, and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
Many college students live on campus and others commute by car (particularly to DCC and DCC-South). However, sidewalk coverage around a college allows students to live nearby and walk to campus, for students and staff to walk between the campus and nearby destinations, and for the adjacent community to take advantage of events and other opportunities on campus.
Sidewalk coverage within a half mile ranges from 42 percent at Vassar and 35 percent at Marist to less than 20 percent at the other colleges. While most campuses have extensive internal paths, sidewalk connections to the surrounding area from most of our colleges are limited.
How frequent is bus service to our colleges?
In addition to walking, college students could use public transit to access campuses and travel between the campus and nearby destinations. Of the six colleges, four have frequent bus service on weekdays – the CIA, DCC, Marist, and Vassar. Bard has somewhat frequent service and DCC-South has infrequent service. See our Bus Access section for more information.
While classes are generally on weekdays, college-related events and activities occur on weekends. Saturday service is consistent with weekday service. On Sundays, Vassar has somewhat frequent service and DCC-South has infrequent service; the other colleges have no service.
How many colleges have access to a rail trail?
Only one of the six colleges are within a half mile of a rail trail: Vassar, which is near the Dutchess Rail Trail. Both Marist and DCC are just beyond a half mile from the Dutchess Rail Trail. Improved connections between the Dutchess Rail Trail and both DCC and Marist would provide students and staff with more transportation options. Marist will also have access to the planned urban trail in Poughkeepsie once it is constructed.
How many colleges are near high-crash or high-congestion locations?
Three of the colleges are adjacent to a high-crash location: Vassar, Marist, and the CIA. Only one college is adjacent to a high-congestion location: DCC-South, which lies near I-84/Route 9. See our Barriers to Reliable Access Map for details.
Based on this analysis, our role could include the following:
- Improve walking access to schools and colleges. Work with partners to fill gaps in sidewalk networks near schools, focusing on schools in centers. A Safe Routes to School planning study could identify the most promising locations. Also work with partners to provide more complete sidewalk networks near colleges.
- Promote bicycle connections to schools and colleges. Very few of our schools and colleges are accessible via a rail trail. In some locations, a connection could be provided either via an off-road path or a low-volume street. A county-wide trail access study could identify and prioritize these and other trail connection projects.
- Improve transit service to colleges. Encourage colleges, particularly DCC and DCC-South, to consider agreements with County Public Transit to allow students and staff to ride County buses for free (see sidebar).
- Continue pedestrian safety education programs in partnership with the County Health Department. Our Watch Out For Me campaign includes educational programs for students.
- Consider access to educational resources, as well as other basic needs, when evaluating potential safety and congestion-related improvements. Provide additional weight for projects that improve access to basic needs in our project selection criteria.
*This does not account for internal campus paths that are not along streets.
SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL
Safe Routes to School is a movement to provide safe, comfortable and convenient ways for students to walk or bicycle to school. Safe Routes to School programs take many forms, but often involve the following:
Engagement- understanding the issues and concerns of parents, students and school staff
Equity- ensuring that all students can benefit from Safe Routes to School
Engineering- improving sidewalks, crossings, and bicycle facilities
Encouragement- hosting events like Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day to encourage kids, families, and schools to try walking or bicycling to school
Education- teaching students and families how to walk and bike safely
Evaluation- assessing the effectiveness of the program and making changes as needed
One example of Safe Routes to School planning is our West Road (CR 71) Sidewalk Feasibility Study, which evaluated the potential for a sidewalk along West Road to connect the school to the Pleasant Valley hamlet and adjacent residential areas.
EXPANDING ACCESS: TRANSIT PARTNERSHIPS WITH SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES
In recent years, Marist College, DCC, Vassar College, and Bard College have signed agreements with County Public Transit to allow students and staff to ride County buses for free, paid for by the college (this is known as Universal Transit Passes). While Marist discontinued its agreement due to lack of ridership, the DCC program was a large success. In 2019, DCC students and staff took more than 87,000 rides, representing about 10% of total ridership. Unfortunately, DCC discontinued its agreement due to lack of funding. Vassar College has continued its program, with about 10,500 rides in 2019, representing one percent of County Transit’s total ridership.
Bard College signed its agreement at the end of 2020. Bard also provides its own free shuttle service for students, faculty and staff. One shuttle provides service within the campus on weekdays, while another runs seven days a week between campus and the villages of Red Hook and Tivoli. Bard also provides shuttles to airports and the Poughkeepsie and Rhinecliff train stations at the start and end of college semesters and breaks.
County Public Transit has also worked with the Poughkeepsie Central School District to create universal transit passes for its students. In 2019, Poughkeepsie students accounted for almost 7% of County Transit’s total ridership.