Safe Routes to School
Use Your Head, Choose Your Feet
by Susan Silber, Education Coordinator, Safe Routes to Schools, Alameda County, CA
What a difference a generation makes; close to
80% of all children are now driven to school, many living just a
few blocks from school. Parents cite concerns about safety,
busy schedules and the simple habit of driving everywhere as reasons for driving their children to school.
This change has profound environmental and health consequences. Driving is the number one issue behind climate change and the rise of carbon dioxide levels; up to 50% of greenhouse gas emissions in many parts of California are caused by cars. Air pollution around schools has also risen as parents make twice-daily trips to and from school. Inactive children are experiencing an alarming rise in obesity.
The Safe Routes to School program is working hard to reverse this trend. This innovative program aims to increase the number of children walking and biking to school by offering a menu of activities that engage the entire community and address the numerous concerns that parents cite when not letting their kids walk to school.
Many states now have impressive Safe Routes programs, their successes largely based on an amazing array of partnerships, from Public Health departments helping with educational efforts to police officers aiding in the enforcement component, to community-based organizations conducting bike education programs. Though programs vary according to the population of the area, some signature efforts are replicated in many states because of their success rate:
Walk to School Day: This international celebration, held during the first week of October, kicks off the year’s program activities. The idea began in England and was brought to the U.S. in 2002, with children, parents, teachers and community leaders in all 50 states joining nearly 3 million walkers around the world last year.
Walking School Buses: The
Walking School Bus is a proven method using the simple
strategy of encouraging children from the same neighborhood to walk to
school in groups supervised by parents or other adults. The parents or
“drivers” volunteer to take turns walking along a set route to and from
school, collecting children from designated “bus stops” along the way.
This eliminates the excuse of many parents that they don't have time to walk their children to school. Many children see
this time as a playdate before and after school.
Some parents have even organized “bike trains,” groups of children riding their bikes to school. “Walking School Buses are a wonderful way to address safety concerns because it’s much safer to walk in groups. Parents also love it because sometimes they don’t have time to walk with their kids to school, so they drop their kids off and walk with me,” says Ken McCrosky, a Walking School Bus leader at Marin Elementary School in Albany.
California has an especially strong Safe Routes to Schools program, with more than $48 million in funding during this year alone going to Safe Routes infrastructure projects. To support programmatic activities, the Safe Routes to Schools Alameda County Partnership received close to $1 million dollars in funding from ACTIA (Alameda County Transportation Infrastructure Authority) and Kaiser Permanente to make walking and biking to school safer and more convenient for families in Alameda County.
The program partners with a number of organizations, including the Alameda County Health Department, Cycles of Change, Alta Planning and the Cities of Berkeley, Albany, Oakland and others. While offering traditional Safe Routes to Schools tools such as bicycle and pedestrian safety programs and Walk to School Day events, the program also features innovative components that address obstacles for walking and biking in an urban setting. Such features include trainings for parents and teachers on how to talk to children about handling situations that arise when walking in urban areas. They also encourage and help to organize carpooling and taking the bus for those students who live too far to walk or bike.
Their work has spread to close to 50 schools, including the following:
• A partnership with the non-profit Cycles of Change, which teaches upper elementary and middle school children about bicycle safety to after school students;
• An engaging school-wide puppet show that more than 2,000 students saw last year;
• A recently-completed Teachers Guide with standards-based lesson plans for grade K-5.
"Schools and parents are so hungry for ways to get kids more active in a safe, fun way. The Safe Routes to Schools Program is a fantastic way to do this while also addressing key issues of safety and the environment," says Program Director Nora Cody. The program is a perfect complement to the green activities at your school. So dust off those walking shoes or bicycle, grab a few kids in the neighborhood and join in the revolution! It’s as easy as picking up your feet and walking out the door with your children to school.
Interested in learning if your school offers a Safe Routes to Schools program?
You can contact the California Coordinator Joyce Parks (firstname.lastname@example.org) If the county that you live in does not currently house a Safe Routes coordinator, you can still organize a few activities just to get started. You can download a Safe Routes to Schools toolkit.
Other websites useful in getting a program off the ground:
For more information about the Alameda County program, contact Nora Cody: email@example.com