Designing safer routes to walk
A movement is underfoot to develop "Safe Routes to Schools" nationwide and in Northeast Ohio. The movement got a jump in 2000 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 13 percent of American children walk or bike to school. Compared to thirty years ago when more than 66 percent of all children walked to school, the report, and the connection to growing obesity in America's young, is cause for serious concern. And for action.
On a local level, EcoCity Cleveland has developed its Circle-Heights Bike Map, a citizens' planning concept to connect great destinations by bicycle in University Circle and the surrounding Heights. And in Cleveland, Mayor Jane Campbell has formed a Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee to plan on making the streets safer and more accessible for everyone whether they choose to bike, walk or other.
The following is Safe Routes to School program director Wendy Kallins' forward to the project toolkit, a practical guide to implementing Safe Routes to School in your neighborhood:
In August 2000, the Marin County (California) Bicycle Coalition and Walk Boston, with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), began to develop a national model Safe Routes to School program. Congressman James Oberstar, the ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, endorsed the program as a means to reduce traffic congestion around schools and promote healthy alternatives.
Marin County is a picturesque community north of San Francisco with numerous historic small towns and miles of open space. Despite its low population growth, traffic congestion has grown increasingly worse with 21 percent of the morning commute resulting from parents driving their children to school. In fact, surveys indicated that 73 percent of students commuted to school by car; 14 percent walked; 7 percent biked; and 3 percent arrived by bus [and that's in alternative transportation friendly Northern California - Eds.].
To demonstrate the benefits of the Safe Routes to School program, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition recruited nine pilot schools in four locations. Each school received guidance, forms, newsletters, and other promotional materials. In two jurisdictions, schools were grouped to form citywide task forces to study engineering solutions to increase safety on routes to schools. A transportation engineer was hired to assist in developing these plans. Every school held periodic Walk and Bike to School Days and participated in the Frequent Rider Miles contest which rewarded children who came to school walking, biking, by carpool, or by bus.
At the end of the pilot program there was a 57 percent increase in the number of children walking and biking to school and a 29 percent decrease in the number of children arriving by car (those not in a carpool). This toolkit resulted from the experiences of the Marin County pilot program and from other Safe Routes to School programs in the United States, in the Canadian province of British Columbia, and in the United Kingdom.
We offer this toolkit to others who wish to start a Safe Routes to School program in your school or community [the toolkit is a guide that can be used to educate community stakeholders who may then opt to hire a planning consultant, a traffic engineer and other experts to implement the programs and physical aspects of Safe Routes to School - Eds.]
At the end of the pilot program there was a 57 percent increase in the number of children walking and biking to school.