Her work as the Safe Routes to School Coordinator for the last decade has been transformative in making Palo Alto’s program one of the most successful in the nation and a model for other cities.
The partnership between the City, the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) and PTA Safe Routes to School volunteers helps keep cars off of the roads, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and teaches children skills that will serve them for life.
Durham’s work has also earned her national recognition. In March, she was awarded the first-ever Bicycle Agency Staff Person of the Year Award by the League of American Bicyclists based in Washington, D.C.
Her passion for sustainable environmental causes trace back to her roots growing up on a Nebraska farm. That led to graduate fieldwork on environmental policy in the Amazon River basin and eventually brought her to work at Stanford in the late 70s. Becoming a bicycle commuter during that time led her to focus her future efforts on local and sustainable transportation choices.
While her children were in school, she volunteered and served as a PTA representative on the City/School Traffic Safety Committee, helping to develop elementary education programs, as well as initiating Walk & Roll Week in October and Earth Week green commute events in spring. In 2000, she joined the City of Palo Alto part-time as a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Coordinator.
The third grade bike education program in Palo Alto Unified School District was revamped in 1994 to focus on risk reduction education and implemented in all elementary schools. In the 22 years since, more than 17,200 students have participated in the program. Bicycling to school increased from 35 percent to 50 percent between 2005 and 2015 at the middle school level. That figure went from 17 percent to 43 percent at Palo Alto high schools.
“Working with our Safe Routes to School partners – PTA volunteers, principals, and PAUSD staff – has been the secret to the success in increasing biking, especially to our secondary schools,” said Durham.
Her mantra of “more people biking more places more often” compliments many of the City’s long-term transportation and sustainability goals.
“Kathy’s dedication, attention to detail and commitment to her work has not only formed the foundation of the Safe Routes the School program, but has been pivotal in making Palo Alto the bicyclefriendly community that it is,” said Jessica Sullivan, Transportation Planning Manager.
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