School aims to reduce traffic by 35 percent
Traffic counts should begin this month to assess the impact of Menlo School's "Go Menlo" program, launched at the beginning of the school year with a goal of reducing traffic by 35 percent through carpooling, busing, and other alternatives to getting to and from school.
Atherton City Planner Neal Martin said reducing traffic on and around Valparaiso Avenue was a condition of the school's use permit amendment to allow an enrollment increase of about 50 students. With Menlo School and nearby Sacred Heart Schools fronting Valparaiso, traffic in that area is typically a headache just before and after school.
Menlo School spokeswoman Jill Kasser said the school is still in the process of collecting data to assess the program's success so far, but some preliminary figures are promising.
To encourage participation, the program includes incentives giving those who carpool, bike, walk, or use public transportation "points that translate into dollar donations to help local community service and environmental organizations," Ms. Kasser said. The students choose the organizations.
The tally as of early February indicates significant participation: According to Ms. Kasser, the middle school earned $8,688, which it donated to the Peninsula Humane Society's Wildlife Care Center; and the upper school raised $7,307 to give to Hidden Villa to fund science field trips for kids at Taft Elementary School in Redwood City.
The school partnered with a Web-based transportation scheduling tool, Zimride, for the program, Ms. Kasser said. "With Menlo School's private Zimride community, Menlo families can find carpooling partners, sign up for bus rides, and earn incentive points by tracking their efforts on the Commute Calendar," she explained in an email.
Although Zimride is used by Stanford and a number of local companies, Menlo School is its first independent school partner, according to Ms. Kasser.
Head of School Norm Colb said in an email: "We are pleased with the progress of the Go Menlo program to date. There's more to come, and we are optimistic." Mr. Colb said the program is deepening students' awareness of the role they play in preserving the environment.
Mr. Martin, the town planner, said Atherton officials will be paying close attention to the program's effectiveness. If traffic is substantially reduced, it might provide incentive for other area schools to adopt programs of their own, he said.