Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership
By Kristen Steele
In the 1980s, I walked home from school. I liked being a “walker” – as the teachers who were the shepherds of school dismissal called us. I remember the freedom and independence of walking home and the fun times spent with friends along the way. I didn’t know then that walkers were quickly becoming a vanishing breed. The percentage of kids walking or biking to school dropped from over 50 percent in 1969, to less than 13 percent in 2004. During the same time period, the percentage of children who were obese nearly quadrupled. Fortunately, today there are many advocates – parents, teachers, government officials and others – working to reverse this trend. Forming what’s been dubbed the “Safe Routes to School” movement, here’s a few ways we’re making tracks:
1) government support: In 2005, the US government approved the first federally funded Safe Routes to School program, guaranteeing each state at least $1 million USD each year for infrastructure improvements and education that promote safe walking and biking to school. The program funds things like crosswalk improvements and sidewalks around schools, as well as supports educational efforts, such as the ones listed below.
2) international walk and bike to school day: Held each October since the mid-1990s, schools across the world organize students for a day or week of walking and biking to school. These events help raise awareness of the value of walkable and bikeable communities in the media. In 2009, 40 countries (including the US, Canada and Mexico) representing millions of students participated worldwide.
3) walk across america: This program helps students track the miles they walk and bike to school. Students plot their miles (along with their classmates’) across a map. As they reach destinations along the way they also learn interesting facts about each place, such as local landmarks and foods.
4) bike train/ walking School Bus: Parents take turns volunteering to lead the bike “train” or walking “bus” picking up children along a designated route to school. The parent chaperones the group of kids as they walk or bike to school together.
5) frequent rider miles program: This program rewards kids for walking or biking by making those trips to school count for points. With enough points, students earn small prizes and raffle tickets for more valuable booty.
These programs, among many others, help advocates effectively change the habits of an entire generation. Marin County, CA, birthplace of the Safe Routes to School movement in the US, reports inspiring results. After its first two years, the Marin program was in 15 schools, reaching nearly 5,000 students. Participating schools report a 115 percent increase in kids that bike to school and a 64 percent jump in those who walk. With enough investment of time and money, we may see a day again where people power is the dominant fuel for getting to school.
Learn more about efforts to get kids moving at:
Kristen Steele works for the Alliance for Biking and Walking and serves on the Steering Committee of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.