Did you walk or bike to school when you were a child? Thirty years ago, more than 66 percent of all children walked to school. Walking or biking to school gives children a sense of freedom and responsibility, allows them to enjoy the fresh air, and provides opportunities to get to know their neighborhood while arriving at school alert, refreshed, and ready to start their day. Yet most American children are denied this experience; in fact, only 13 percent of American children walk or bike to school.
Recent research indicates that 20 to 25 percent of morning traffic is due to parents driving their children to school. As a result, traffic congestion has increased around schools, prompting even more parents to drive their children to school. The health consequences to our children and to the well being of the community are extensive.
A successful Safe Routes to School (SR2S) program integrates health, fitness, traffic relief, environmental awareness, and safety under one program. It is an opportunity to work closely with your school, your community, and your local government to create a healthy lifestyle for children and a safer, cleaner environment for everyone.
Many successful SR2S programs began with just one or two volunteers organizing a Walk and Bike to School Day, using the energy generated from a single event to build a SR2S program. Other SR2S programs were created through a community-wide Task Force organized by public officials to address traffic issues. There is no “right” way to start the program. Customizing your program to the needs of your community will ensure the success of your program but your chance of success will increase if you follow in the footsteps of the pilot programs.
Successful SR2S programs in the United States have incorporated one or more of the following approaches:
- The Encouragement Approach uses events and contests to entice students to try walking and biking.
- The Education Approach teaches students important safety skills and launches driver safety campaigns.
- The Engineering Approach focuses on creating physical improvements to the infrastructure surrounding the school, reducing speeds and establishing safer crosswalks and pathways.
- The Enforcement Approach uses local law enforcement to ensure drivers obey traffic laws.
Although each element can stand alone, the most successful programs have integrated elements from all four approaches. Each time the program is adapted, new ideas emerge. Use research data, innovation, and imagination to develop a program that best suits your school and community.