When many of us were younger, walking or biking to and from school wasn't a choice; it was just what we did. Rain or shine, older siblings helped younger brothers and sisters cross the street, and friends met up along the way. It was good exercise and a chance to get out some extra energy before the school day began.
Today, this practice that we took for granted has become a distant memory. In 2009 only 13 percent of K-8th Grade students were reported as walking or biking to school. That's a huge shift from 40 years earlier when that number was 48 percent. In 1969, 89 percent of kids who lived within a mile of school walked or rode their bikes; in 2009 that figure was down to 35 percent.
We know that, when kids walk or bike to school, they get energized for their school day and they bring neighborhoods together. And every kid who isn't riding in a parent's car means less traffic congestion and lower vehicle emissions around our children's schools. We also know that--compared to school buses or walking and biking--riding to school in a parent or caregiver's car is the least safe choice for kids.
Fortunately, the Federal Highway Administration's National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) has been working hard since 2005 to reverse this trend. Safe Routes programs are efforts by parents, schools, community leaders, and local, state, and federal governments to improve the health and well-being of children by enabling and encouraging them to walk and bicycle to school.
On Friday I was lucky enough to join Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Mike Cline, the Commissioner of the Indiana DOT, and my own grandchildren for a walk to school and a community conversation about Safe Routes. Although it was a bit chilly, it was a terrific way to start Grandparents Day.
Engineering – Creating roadway improvements near schools that reduce speeds and potential conflicts between motor vehicles and walking students and establishing safer crossings, walkways, and bikeways.
Education – Teaching children important bicycling and walking safety skills and launching driver safety campaigns near schools.
Enforcement – Partnering with local law enforcement to ensure traffic laws are obeyed in school zones and initiating community enforcement such as crossing guard programs.
Encouragement – Using events and activities to promote walking and bicycling.
Evaluation – Monitoring and documenting outcomes and trends to gauge success.
Indiana schools are doing a great job of sticking to the 5 E's. Many communities have improved crosswalks, sidewalks and signs; incorporated flashing lights to alert drivers; and instituted crossing guard training programs.
Congratulations to the Hoosier State for setting a great example for schools around the country.
And I encourage schools everywhere to take part in the first ever National Bike to School Day on May 9th. Just don't forget your helmet!