Walkable and bike-friendly communities allow youth and adults to incorporate physical activity into daily routines
Physical activity is vital for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, yet the most recent federal survey found that only 26% of high school students were active for the expert-recommended 60 minutes a day on all seven days before the survey. In addition, the percentage of children walking or biking to school has declined from 48 percent in 1969 to only 17.6 percent in 2014. Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) promotes walking and biking to and from school by providing communities with resources to build sidewalks and bike paths, add crosswalks, and improve lighting and signage to ensure safe conditions.
Between 2005 and 2012, the federal SRTS program provided more than $1 billion in funding to states and communities to support infrastructure improvements and education to make it easier and safer for children to walk and bike to and from school. Subsequently, SRTS was combined with other federal programs designed to encourage walking and biking; the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program for transportation alternatives provides $850 million annually through 2020 to fund SRTS and related projects.
The following recommendations regarding safe routes to school come from State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier Future, 2018, produced by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
• States should support efforts to make Safe Routes to School programs universally available and secure state-level appropriations or Transportation Alternatives Program allocations for both infrastructure and noninfrastructure projects.
McCook Elementary School’s wALKING BUS
With an $8,761 SRTS grant from the Nebraska Department of Transportation, McCook Elementary School partnered with the Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department to create its own Safe Routes to School program. Program elements included an education campaign on the benefits of walking and biking, the implementation of Walking School Buses, and increased law enforcement presence along routes to school. As a result of these efforts, the number of students biking to and from school increased from 10 percent to 25 percent.
Safe Routes in Michigan
With more than $300,000 in SRTS funding from the Michigan Department of Transportation, the town of Stevensville, Michigan installed sidewalks on the town’s main road and constructed a trail outfitted with street signs and traffic lights; the town also supplied families with informational materials and created an incentive system for students who walked and biked to school. The number of students biking to and from school subsequently increased tenfold.
“Walk. Bike. Get Fit.” in Arizona
With federal SRTS funding secured by the Arizona Department of Transportation, Kinsey Elementary School in Flagstaff, Arizona, implemented a comprehensive safety education and encouragement program called “Walk. Bike. Get Fit.” Activities included a punch card incentive program, bicycle rodeos, and a student-led photojournalism project to increase awareness of child pedestrian safety issues. As a result of these efforts, the percentage of students walking and biking to school rose from 6 percent to 25 percent.
Walking one mile to and from school each day provides a child with two-thirds of the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
Among children who live within a mile of school, fewer than 40 percent walk or bike to school.
16 states have statutes or regulations implementing Safe Routes to School initiatives.
- Share on Twitter Share on Facebook A safety analysis by the California Department of Transportation estimated that SRTS was responsible for up to a 49 percent decline in childhood bicycle and pedestrian collision rates.
- Share on Twitter Share on Facebook A study of more than 800 schools in DC, FL, OR, and TX found that Safe Routes to School interventions resulted in an average 31 percent increase in walking and biking to school over a five-year period.
- Share on Twitter Share on Facebook A 2016 survey of 720,000 parents collected from nearly 6,500 schools found that between 2007 and 2014, walking to and from school increased from less than 14 percent of all school trips to more than 17 percent.
Originally posted in August 2018.