Pretty much everyone agrees it would be a good thing if more kids were biking (or walking) to school. Something like 75% of US schoolchildren are driven to school by car, and parents dropping kids off is the single biggest source of traffic around schools (see report). In the space of a single generation, the percentage of kids biking and walking to school has dropped from 41% to 13%, while at the same time childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed (see report). So how do we reverse this trend?
One response to the problem is the federally-funded Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program, which here in Massachusetts is managed by the Department of Transportation. The program provides infrastructure improvements, education, and encouragement to schools statewide, including bicycle safety training by MassBike (click for more details about our youth education programs). About 70% of the funding is targeted for improving the physical infrastructure around schools (like sidewalks, crossings, and bike lanes), with the remaining 30% available for education and program administration. Over the past two years, we’ve taught more than 4000 kids about biking and safety.
We also participate in the state SRTS Task Force, an advisory group of biking, walking, education, and safety experts that provides guidance for the MA program. We ask a lot of questions at Task Force meetings. At the most recent meeting, we asked :
- Why can’t the annual “Walk to School Day” be “Walk & Bike to School Day”? (We’ve raised this issue a few times.)
- Which schools getting bicycling improvements as part of their infrastructure projects?
- Where were needed bicycling improvements identified but not included in projects?
- Which participating schools encourage bicycling, and which schools prohibit bicycling? (Believe it or not, a significant number of schools actually do prohibit kids from biking.)
We got the answer to Question #1 this week: From now on, Massachusetts will have “Walk & Bike to School Day”, thanks to MassBike keeping up the pressure on this issue.
We’ve been promised answers to our other questions at the next quarterly Task Force meeting, so we will keep you posted.