Remember the good old days when kids walked and biked to school by themselves? Many of use probably remember those times—and the freedom and independence that came with it—with fondness. Yet, we tend not to let our own kids do the same. In the late 1960’s, nearly 48% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 walked or biked to school. Today, only 13% do. And it’s not just about kids being further from their schools. In 1969, 88% of students who lived within a mile of their school walked or biked to get there; today that number has dropped to 38%.
There are lots of reasons for this—increased vehicles on the road making the trip more dangerous, inclement weather, concerns about crime, and school policies are just a few. But it’s also true that children these days aren’t getting enough exercise—and walking and biking are two of the best sources of physical activity. With all of this in mind, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched an initiative known as Safe Routes to Schools . The initiative is aimed at helping communities to develop Safe Routes to School programs to get children and families back to biking and walking to school. Individual community programs might work through education and encouragement, increased enforcement of traffic laws in school zones, or even addressing engineering issues such as street and sidewalk layouts.
Since the program started in 2005, Nebraska has received over $7 million in funding to implement Safe Routes to Schools and Iowa has received nearly $9 million. Through their respective offices, both states help communities plan programs and events to create Safe Routes to Schools and offer grants to get those programs up and running. Bigger events are also a part of Safe Routes to Schools: for example, October 5 is International Walk to School Day, and schools across the nation will be encouraging their students to walk to school that day.
The safety of our children when they are going to and from school is an important issue; so too is encouraging healthy behaviors like walking and biking. Bringing these habits back to your community for the benefit of your own children might mean making some changes and undertaking some innovative efforts. Safe Routes to Schools can help get those processes started.