Decisions to Promote Walking and Bicycling

Christine GreenAs I learn more about the communities in the Greater Washington, DC region, I am learning about the unique approaches and challenges to increasing walking and bicycling in each community. For example, some schools do not allow kids to walk or bicycle to school. The school board may not have an official policy allowing principals to make the decision on their own, often without a true assessment of infrastructure, the ability of the child or willingness of parents to be involved. This was the situation in one local school system, Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

But recently, the Fairfax County Public School Board found a solution. Engaged parents and advocates worked with the school board to adopt a new policy. Per the policy, parents now decide if their kids can to walk or bicycle to school. The policy encourages kids to walk or bicycle to school using existing infrastructure with the exception of kindergarteners who have a special policy. The school district will install bike racks when requested due to the new policy.

I have been impressed with the champions who persevere with their programs in the face of funding cuts and even more impressed when a community dedicates its own funds to Safe Routes to School. Two communities in the Greater Washington, DC region now only have part-time Safe Routes to School coordinators. As the funding has been cut, their hours have dwindled, but they still focus on the all-important task of educating kids to be safe pedestrians and cyclists. Montgomery County, Maryland funds half of their coordinator from the general fund with the other half coming from a state grant. The District Department of Transportation dedicated 3 percent of stimulus funds to their Safe Routes to School program.

Loudoun County Public Schools has recently jumped on board by appointing Don Patin, Traffic and Pedestrian Specialist as the Safe Routes to School point person. This decision continues their commitment to getting kids to and from school safely. While they did not receive new funding, they still took the leap and designated an existing staff person. The school district is large and will have to deal with schools in rural locations. But, the new point person is attending the National Center for Safe Routes to School training and already has a champion identified at an elementary school-now that is momentum!

Where there is a will there is a way. Passionate decision makers, dedicated coordinators, informed parents and advocates--it takes us all working at all levels-government, school and community to create places where walking and bicycling is safe and the mode of choice!