Safe Routes to School is a movement to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to walk, bike, roll, and bus to and from schools. The program is alive and active in several schools throughout Humboldt County. The movement includes schools, students, teachers, administrators, parents, neighbors, planners, engineers, police, crossing guards, and bus drivers, as well as local, state, and national governments. In Humboldt County, several organizations and local government bodies are involved in the movement, including HumPAL, Humboldt County Public Health Branch, City of Eureka, and City of Arcata.
HumPAL builds relationships between local jurisdictions and schools, facilitates walk to school day events and walkability audits, and has convened a Safe Routes to School Summit to catalyze SR2S projects throughout the County.
In 1969, 50% of school children in the United States walked to school (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Today in Humboldt County, 20% of school children walk or bike to school.
Children may not be able to walk or bike everywhere, but walking or biking to school can give children a sense of freedom and responsibility, and an opportunity to get some exercise and socialize with other walkers. Not only can SR2S programs encourage more active lifestyles, they can also help reduce traffic, thus creating safer biking and walking environments - as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.
Cities with SR2S programs have less traffic congestion, reduced collision in and around schools, and decreased speed in residential neighborhoods. Children learn valuable traffic safety skills and responsibility and more people of all ages are able to walk and bike in the neighborhood.
The National Center for Safe Routes to Schools has produced a helpful video explaining the benefits of a SR2S program for kids, neighborhoods, and the community. To view the video, you must have the flash plug-in for your browser. You can download Flash from the Adobe website.
Photo Credit: HumPAL.
Safe Routes to School originated in Denmark in 1976 and has since spread internationally. In the United States, the first modern program was in the Bronx, New York, in 1997 and California's State-legislated program began in 1999.
In 2000, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued $50,000 each for Safe Routes to School pilot programs in Marin County, California and Arlington, Massachusetts. Within a year after the launch of the pilot programs, grassroots Safe Routes to School efforts were started throughout the United States.
With the federal Safe Routes to School program, there are now funds to implement Safe Routes to School in all 50 states. Communities are using this funding to construct new bicycle lanes, pathways, and sidewalks, as well as to launch Safe Routes to School education, promotion and enforcement campaigns in elementary and middle schools.
There are many approaches to developing and sustaining fun, safe, and successful programs that teach children and youth traffic safety. Following are seven areas of a SR2S program that help to create the safe and fun routes to school.
Events, contests and promotional materials are incentives that encourage children and parents to try walking and biking. We can provide your community with promotional and contest material, and ongoing consultation.
Classroom lessons teach children the skills necessary to navigate the streets on foot and bike. We can help you find the pedestrian and bicycle safety classroom material for your school. Driver education aimed at increasing awareness of children on the road can be an effective tool in changing driving behavior. We have access to tools that can help you develop a traffic safety program.
Examine the physical barriers that make walking or biking to school unsafe. We partner with planners and engineers who can assist your school community in learning how to evaluate streets and tools to create a safer environment.
Partner with local police departments to focus enforcement efforts in problem areas and increase community awareness of school safety issues. A consistent but random presence of law enforcement will encourage motorists to drive with care.
Safe Routes to School can promote equity by encouraging all members of a community to walk, bike, skate, and bus to school, as well as by investing in projects that will help them do so safely regardless of socio-economic status.
Programs can positively impact the environment by reducing greenhouse gases and dependence on oils (fossil fuels), and by increasing children's awareness and appreciation of the outdoors.