Today, thousands of communities across the country are celebrating the 14th annual International Walk to School Day. More than 3,000 Walk to School Day events will take place today, highlighting the simple joy of walking to school, the importance of regular physical activity, and the need for safe places for children to walk and bicycle in their communities.
Creating these safe places is so important. In 1969, about half of all children walked or biked to school, and nearly 90% those who lived within a mile of the schoolyard got there under their own power. Today, fewer than 15% of schoolchildren walk or bicycle to school.
In the last 30 years, the childhood obesity rate has become a national epidemic: nearly one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. That number is even higher for children of color: 38% of Latino children and 36% of African American kids are overweight or obese. Low-income youth are twice as likely to be overweight.
Providing safe streets designed and built so children can walk or bike to school is key in getting children of all backgrounds more active: most studies of children and adolescents indicate that walking or bicycling to school is related to higher rates of physical activity.
Through the federal Safe Routes to School program, communities are able to conduct bicycle and pedestrian safety education, enforce speed limits and traffic rules, hold promotional events, and build Complete Streets with sidewalks, bike lanes, and new crosswalks around schools.
Yet, the demand for this funding far exceeds the need. Kids have other places to go: parks, friends’ homes, doctors’ offices. And too many of America’s streets are not safe or welcoming for anyone.
That’s where Complete Streets policies come in: augmenting the work done through Safe Routes to School and providing connections to destinations throughout communities for people of all ages.
In Glen Rock, New Jersey, the community around Byrd Elementary School Principal continues their Safe Routes to School work beyond today’s events and is looking to work with the Borough Council on adopting a Complete Streets policy.
A community with a Complete Streets policy considers the needs of children every time a transportation investment decision is made, providing important and safe opportunities for everyday physical activity.
Check the International Walk to School Day website for a list of events happening in and near your community.