Making Routes to School Safe

Sixteen years ago, Deb Hubsmith totaled her car and decided to try to live without one. She had so much trouble getting around Marin County that she ended up as an advocate for safe and healthy alternatives to car travel.


Her long road – often traveled by solar-powered bicycle – led Hubsmith to found the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, based in Fairfax, in 2005. She is director of the partnership, which now serves some 12,000 schools and 5 million children nationwide by working to make streets safer and encourage children to walk and bike to school.


The organization recently received the Game Changer Award from the Centers for Disease Control for its work in fighting childhood obesity by advocating safe and healthy physical activity that can be built into children’s daily lives.


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Why should kids and families walk or bike to school?

It helps kids get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day, which is important for fighting chronic diseases. Studies in the last five years also have shown that kids who get regular physical activity perform better on tests. They get their energy out so they can settle down and listen in the classroom.


It reduces traffic – up to 25 percent of traffic in the Bay Area is parents driving their kids to school. And it reduces air pollution. Lots of trips to school are short trips, and the most polluting miles are the first miles that have been driven.


And one of the number one things kids tell me is that it’s fun!



What should you do if your route to school isn’t safe?

There has to be cooperation between the city and school district that can result in the construction of new sidewalks, bike paths, street crossings, traffic calming or warning signage.


People associated with the school need to talk to people within their city, their mayor or board of supervisors… When parents and kids start to get involved, the policymakers really do listen.



How much funding is there?

There’s about $24 million a year in federal money and $24 million in state money in California. (In the Bay Area), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission just voted to provide an additional $20 million for Safe Routes to School over the next four years. The debate over the federal transportation bill will determine the future of federal money distributed by CalTrans.



What about changing behavior?

Infrastructure is critically important, but so is changing the habits of the next generation. That’s done by having leaders at the school, including parent leaders and a supportive principal, plan special days, events and contests that get kids excited. International Walk and Roll to School Day happens in October. People will see how fabulous it is and want it to happen all the time.



What if you just don’t have time to walk or bike in the morning?

Some neighborhoods are banding together. One technique is to have a “walking school bus,” where groups of kids walk with different designated parents on different days of the week.


Janine DeFao is an associate editor at Bay Area Parent. 

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