Every Kid Deserves the Benefits of a Safe Routes to School Plan

Carol PulleyEvery child deserves the opportunity to get themselves to and from school. Besides being able to chase frogs or play with their friends, there are many benefits to being able to have that activity in their day. 

Children who get themselves to and from school are more aware of their neighborhood. They can more easily identify direction and landmarks. They have more opportunity to develop critical thinking and decision making skills.  A new research study suggests that children who exercise before going to school have better concentration in the classroom. Exercises such as cycling or simply walking to school can increase a child’s attentiveness, the Danish study says. “As a third grade pupil, if you exercise and bike to school, your ability to concentrate increases to the equivalent of someone half a year further in their studies” and “is reflected in the level of concentration one has circa four hours later” according to Niels Egelund, a co-author of the report.

One third of children in the US are overweight or obese, more than triple the number 40 years ago. Safe Routes to School can provide an opportunity for increased physical activity which is associated with lower rates of obesity and reduces the risk for many of the diseases associated with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease. Children who walk or bicycle to school have better cardiovascular fitness and are significantly more physically active throughout the day as compared to children who travel to school by car.

The Safe Routes to School program makes it safer for children to walk and bicycle to and from school. In a New York study, schools with Safe Routes to School improvements saw a 44 percent drop in the number of school-aged pedestrians who were injured.  A Safe Routes to School travel plan identifies and fixes unsafe walking and bicycling conditions around schools. Children traveling through pedestrian-friendly environments are more likely to walk or bicycle to and from school. According to the deputy director of the Safe Routes Partnership, “We’re reducing injuries to kids and when you reduce injuries, parents get more comfortable with their kids walking and biking.”  Safe Routes to School programs can increase walking and bicycling by 20 to 200 percent.

One study found that 10-14 percent of morning rush hour traffic is parents driving children to school. If safe routes were provided, many children could get themselves to school, cutting down on the congestion around schools and costs for car drivers and buses. Hazardous route busing funds could be used to mitigate hazards. Transportation is responsible for one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing the traffic reduces the safety hazards and air pollution children face on the way to school.

Children should be able to walk to and from school chasing frogs and playing with their friends.  They are short changed with anything less.