In 1969, 50 percent of American children walked to school, but by 2004, that number had dropped to 14 percent, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. This decrease has contributed to other problems:
- Parents dropping their kids off at school account for 20 to 30 percent of all morning rush hour traffic.
- 50 percent of all American children (under age 19) were overweight or obese in 2003, compared to 15 percent of overweight or obese children in the early 1970s. Walking to and from school is an easy way for children to build activity into their lives and meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week.
- The decline in walking and biking has had an adverse effect on air quality around schools.
Leading the movement to provide opportunities for children to safely walk and bike to school is the aptly named Safe Routes to School program. This initiative (Sec. 1404 of the 2005 federal transportation bill SAFETEA-LU) funds US$612 million over five years for efforts in schools and communities that are working to provide children the option to walk or bike to school safely.
From the national SRTS website overview, the program aims to enable and encourage children to walk and bicycle to school; make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative, thereby encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age; and facilitate projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution in the vicinity (approximately two miles) of primary and middle schools.
SRTS also helps fund national Walk/Bike-to-School Day – October 8 this year – with nearly 1,500 schools in 48 states participating this year. With high levels of support and participation, political leaders and decision-makers will undoubtedly notice that enabling our children to safely walk and bike to school is vitally important, the Rails-toTrails believes.
To find a program near you, visit the national Walk-to-School website.