June 2, 2007

Proposal would encourage more students to walk to school

The Safe Routes to Schools bill proposed for Massachusetts "is designed to help communities establish safety education programs; install new crosswalks, bike lanes, and signs; construct and replace sidewalks and traffic-calming bumps; and build multi use trails connecting to schools," the Boston Globe reports.

It's a great idea, although of course you've got to have schools that could conceivably be walked to -- many exurban communities don't. In addition, it would be tough in a community like Framingham where the idea of neighborhood schools was replaced by "school choice" in order to better racially/socio-economically balance the town's schools; and thus many elementary school students don't live near their schools. And with only one high school in town, and a community half the size of Boston, most high schoolers don't live within walking distance either.

Still, many students could benefit from such a program -- including in Framingham, where there still are students within a mile or so of their schools. I see some parents walking their kids to the Stapleton School, even if many more take the bus or drive.

Newton resident Joanne Hooker told the Globe that she started walking her children to school after warning her often-oversleeping daughter Rebecca that she'd have to walk to school if she missed the bus. "Rebecca continued to sleep in, and the family took to the streets. It turned out that the children loved it -- Rebecca most of all." Walking turned out not to be a punishment, it was fun!

"Many of us remember a time when walking and bicycling to school was a part of everyday life," notes the Federal Highway Administration Web site. "In 1969, about half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, however, the story is very different. Fewer than 15 percent of all school trips are made by walking or bicycling, one-quarter are made on a school bus, and over half of all children arrive at school in private automobiles.

"This decline in walking and bicycling has had an adverse effect on traffic congestion and air quality around schools, as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety. In addition, a growing body of evidence has shown that children who lead sedentary lifestyles are at risk for a variety of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

"Safety issues are a big concern for parents, who consistently cite traffic danger as a reason why their children are unable to bicycle or walk to school. The purpose of the Federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program is to address these issues." The state bill would help do so at a local level.

1 comment:

  1. Today's children are being taught a powerful lesson -- that walking or biking is slow, unsafe, and and outmoded. As they grow up, without even thinking, they'll get into their car and avoid what could be a pleasant 10-minute walk.

    But there's more that they're learning. As they are driven from place to place, they learn to be dependent and controlled by others. When I went to grammar school, we came and went as we pleased. If we wanted to linger at the school for some reason, we did. Even in high school, with a 2 mile trip, I often avoided the bus and walked home, just so I could go on my own schedule, stop at a downtown store for whatever, and have some quiet time to myself.