With the first day of school right around the corner, now is the best time to get students and parents into the habit of walking, rolling, and biking.
With many districts starting their upcoming school year, it is important to acknowledge the current situation regarding transportation to and from school. As of 2016, 15 percent of children in Washington State walked to school, while 1 percent biked to school. This follows a nationwide declining trend starting in 1969 where 48 percent of students K-8 walked or biked to school. This decline in walking and biking to school has been linked to negatively impacting things such as costs of travel, the environment, physical activity, social interactions, and educational attainment.
Given that one of the most commonly cited barriers to active transportation for children is unsafe road and street conditions, implementing Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs in one's community can be a first step in promoting all forms of active transportation. Families in their communities can ensure that their students can safely get to and from school without the use of a car, while simultaneously reducing congestion and air quality. Additionally, equity must be the underlying principle when implementing SRTS programs.
Given the unique circumstances certain groups of students and their families may face when participating in active transportation, planning for ways that everyone can participate is essential. Some great strategies and tips are provided below.
If your school has a great walking and biking program, we'd love to hear more about it. Email Ed Engel, Snotrac's Mobility Justice Advocate, at email@example.com.
Walking and Rolling strategies:
The Walking School Bus (WSB) is a structured program in which an organized group of students is accompanied by parents and/or caregivers to and from school. Each designated route would allow for students to gather at a designated location and be dropped off near their house or someplace such as a park. The Walking School Bus can be an effective way to provide adult supervision and reassurance as parents and/caregivers can take turns escorting children. Furthermore, WSBs are an effective way for students and their families to socialize with one another and build community. Look under Appendix B on King County Metro’s website for ways to implement a WSB in your community.
Corner Greeters are volunteers or paid staff that staff primary routes where kids are traveling. These community members can create “safe zones” and are go-to adults in nearby areas, supporting youth and providing de-escalation for certain scenarios. By providing adults along routes, parents and their children can feel safer on their walk or roll school commute.
Secure Bike and Scooter Parking should be implemented to adequately equip those that want to take active rolling methods to school. While considering increasing rolling parking, consider dispersing parking in accessible areas in order to reduce crowding at arrival or dismissal.
Plan events: Plan a Walk & Roll to School Day. A Walk & Roll to School Day can be a wide variety of things from an encouragement for family and community members to be active commuting to school on a specific day, or a coordination of walking groups, designated routes, or on-campus events. For more information check out this event guide published by King County Metro.
For more ideas for strategies and events check out page 33-43 of this document published by Oregon Metro.
Here are some equitable strategies and tips:
Plan for inclusivity: Create opportunities for everyone to be able to participate, including those who may have a disability, may be homeless, and/or face cultural and/or physical barriers actively getting to school. Providing food, child care, and transit vouchers at events can be targeted ways to address impediments of being able to participate. This also includes providing bikes, helmets, and other equipment when teaching bike skills and safety classes.
Focus on community: Work with local leaders and community representatives when planning for community-established events. When organizing event staff, build a diverse team that is representative of the community in which students can see themselves reflected amongst the leadership. Additionally, take in consideration the accessibility of said events and whether community members can attend to voice their opinions .
Accessibility of language: Take in consideration the language and speech barriers that come with planning for Safe Routes to School programs. Providing translation and interpreters in order to reach out to people in their primary languages can foster better understanding. Furthermore, focusing on pictures and other visuals, rather than text or humor, can be an effective way of relaying information to the community.
These are just a few ways and ideas of implementing Safe Routes to School in your community and by no means an exhaustive resource. For more information check out the following links:
— article written by Ed Engel, Snotrac's Mobility Justice Advocate