This guest blog post was written by Nancy Pullen Seufert, Director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School.
What we’re talking about a lot these days at the National Center is how Safe Routes to School changes norms for communities. Programs help open a door to creating safer environments for walking and biking and give families opportunities to try out (or revisit) getting around under their own steam. It can play a broader role in other community concerns by reducing transportation costs, creating connectivity within communities, and serving as a tool to combat truancy, improving readiness to learn, and enhancing overall community life. Safe Routes has the ability to inspire culture change and get communities excited about building environments that are safe and vibrant for walking and biking to all destinations.
Over the past decade, Safe Routes has inspired culture change in a diverse array of communities. Since 2005, Safe Routes to School programs have had a substantial presence in low income areas. Last fall, the National Center was pleased to release a ten-year report highlighting the success of the Federal SRTS Program. In this report, data show that low-resourced areas are well served by Safe Routes to School. The program has impacted thousands of communities far and wide, reaching at least 6.8 million students and over 19,000 schools, all while helping to improve safety and increase the number of students safely walking and bicycling to school.
Speaking of biking, we just opened registration for 2016 Bike to School Day (May 4) on walkbiketoschool.org and have seen tremendous excitement. There has been huge growth in participation in both this event and Walk to School Day over the years. Since 2005, the number of Walk to School Day events has more than doubled and participation in Bike to School Day, now in its fifth year, has nearly tripled. Event organizers tell us Bike to School Day is a great way to get kids out on bikes and to promote safety skills. Mostly, they tell us that it’s serious fun. In other words, it’s about the serious work of promoting safety and improving conditions for biking, but also about connecting kids and families with the enjoyment of feeling the wind against their faces as they pedal to their next destination.
Our hope is that Safe Routes to School continues to inspire families to look for ways to use active transportation for other kinds of trips to other kinds of places, and that there’s a built environment to support it. As we look towards our spring events, the SRTS National Conference and celebrating ten years of the Federal SRTS Program, I think of the energy and enthusiasm Deb Hubsmith devoted to encouraging walking and biking to school. I hope we can each carry a bit of that inside of us as we move forward to help walking and biking be safe and commonplace for children, families and all community members.