Bicycling and Walking to School Makes Healthy Kids and Healthy Communities!

Safe Routes to School (SRTS)

Bicycling and Walking to School Makes Healthy Kids and Healthy Communities!

Why We Need It

Do you remember walking or biking to school? More than half of adults do. It was an important part of your day – the chance to explore and have an adventure, learn independence, and best of all, to get the exhilaration of freedom. A generation ago, 51% of American children walked or biked to school, and many neighborhoods were places of vibrant community activity. Today, only 15% of children are walking or biking to school.

Are kids lazier? No, but the opportunities to walk and bike to school have been disappearing, and parents are afraid of traffic risk and ‘stranger danger’. However, the risks from abduction or a car crash are being far outweighed by the dramatic rise in obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma, cancers, heart disease, depression and other problems caused by inactivity and air pollution.

One of every four American children is overweight or obese. One of every three American adults is overweight or obese. Obesity could become the most costly issue in America – over $117 billion is spent annually on the associated costs already. This may be the first generation in history to suffer more health concerns and have a shorter life span than its parents.

One hundred million Americans live where air quality standards fail national standards. Traffic congestion costs Americans $63 billion in lost productivity annually. Neighbors are less aware of each other, reducing our sense of community and safety.

There is a program that is part of the solution. It is called Safe Routes to School, a comprehensive program based on a simple premise: our kids should be able to safely walk and bike to school. The Safe Routes to School movement is taking hold across the country, as communities are helping kids and families walk and bike to school. Safe Routes to School programs combine education, engineering, enforcement, evaluation and encouragement to get more kids walking and biking to school and make conditions safer and more convenient.

Safe Routes to School programs have been shown to reduce crashes in school zones up to 40% and increase walking and biking to school to over 60%. Walking and biking to school improves children’s health, teaches independence, makes neighborhoods safer, improves air quality, and lowers transportation costs and congestion for families and taxpayers. Neighbors get to know each other and bullying and crime rates drop.

One of the most popular and effective SRTS components is the Walking or Biking School Bus. Parents and other volunteers take turns walking or riding to school with a group of neighborhood kids – a school bus without the ‘yellow bus’ – exercise, safety and fun all rolled into one!

Program Goals

The simple action of walking or biking to school benefits both individuals and the community. These benefits include:

-Increased physical activity for children and youth

-Reduced risk of type-2 diabetes and obesity

-A healthier lifestyle for the whole family

-Improved air quality and a cleaner environment

-Reduced incidences of bullying and crime

-Less traffic congestion around schools

-Safer, calmer streets and neighborhoods

-Greater independence for children

-Better relationships with neighbors

-Decreased pressure on parents to drive children to school

-Improved pedestrian and bicycle skills among schoolchildren

-Encouragement of walking and biking as a healthy alternative to driving

Sample Program Activities (See NHTSA Safe Routes to School Guidebook)

What is the target audience of the Safe Routes to School program?

Safe Routes to School tends to achieve the best results among schoolchildren grades 1st to 8th. Parents are very active in these grades, and can help to make the program a success. By high school, most American youth are peer-pressured to drive a car, making walking and biking a less ‘cool’ option. However, Safe Routes to School activities can take place in high schools, especially where there are youth leaders who can promote the program and actively participate in program design.

A Brief History of SRTS

In the mid-1970s, Odense, Denmark pioneered a pilot program where all of their 45 schools identified specific road dangers. In 10 years, child pedestrian and cyclist casualties fell by more than 80%. Soon after, Denmark established a national program. In Great Britain, a group called Sustrans initiated 10 Safe Routes to Schools pilot projects in 1995. Within two years bike use tripled, child pedestrian casualties fell 70% and cycling casualties fell 28%. Two Canadian programs started in the late nineties, “Go for Green in Toronto and “Way to Go” in B.C.

One of the most successful Safe Routes to School programs in the US is in Marin County, CA. In August 2000, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition was funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop national model Safe Routes to Schools programs. At the end of the pilot program the schools experienced a 57% increase in the number of children walking and biking and a 29% decrease in the number of children arriving alone in a car.

Safe Routes to School became popular around the nation from 2000 to 2005, with pilot programs in cities such as Chicago, New York’s Bronx and Portland, and states such as Colorado, Maine, California, Texas and Oregon. In 2005 federal funding began supporting and creating Safe Routes to School programs in every state.

Who Supports It in the US?

KidsWalk-to-School/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

To support the national goal of better health through physical activity, CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Program has developed KidsWalk-to-School. This is a community-based program that aims to increase opportunities for daily physical activity by encouraging children to walk to and from school in groups accompanied by adults. Healthy Choices 2010, a report produced by The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identifies strategies for Safe Routes to School.

SAFETEA-LU Transportation Enhancements Act

This five-year program provides federal funding for Safe Routes to School in every state for middle and elementary schools. Every state will receive at least $1 million per year. The program is managed by the FHWA and state departments of transportation. For more information go to:

National Center for Safe Routes to School

Established in May 2006, the National Center for Safe Routes to School assists communities in enabling and encouraging children to safely walk and bike to school. The Center strives to equip Safe Routes to School programs with the knowledge and technical information to implement safe and successful strategies. The National Center for Safe Routes to School is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.

Safe Routes to School National Partnership

Launched in August 2005, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership is a fast-growing network of hundreds of organizations, government agencies and professional groups working to set goals, share best practices, secure funding, and provide educational materials to agencies that implement Safe Routes to School programs.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s mission is to serve a diverse national community of organizations that advocates for and promotes the practice of safe bicycling and walking to and from schools throughout the United States.

In 2007, the SRTS National Partnership initiated the State Network Project to establish SRTS networks in nine states and the District of Columbia. The project brings together stakeholders from diverse fields to work with state Departments of Transportation to increase physical activity in students, to make the best use of available federal SRTS funds, and to remove policy barriers to walking and bicycling to schools.

The Partnership is managed by a staff and governed by a Steering Committee comprised of organizations and agencies that have been developing SRTS programs and initiatives at local, state and national levels. Our hundreds of partners utilize their communication channels to spread the word about SRTS opportunities, news, challenges and collaborations. The Partnership includes partner affiliates such as the AARP, the American Heart Association, the PTA, and Active Living by Design.

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