New evidence supports Safe Routes to School programs
As the end of the year approaches and the Bicycle Colorado education team wraps up another successful season, I find myself once again reflecting on our progress.
From September through November, we completed bicycle and pedestrian safety education programs in seven schools (including a middle school), reaching over 3,000 students. More than 80 kids learned how to ride a bike for the first time this semester.
Our Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs, in my opinion, are awesome. We reach students, parents, administrators and when possible, district and city-level officials. Being on the ground, we see firsthand increased numbers of students biking and walking to and from school.
“Well, does it work?”
I understand where this question comes from. The change in the number of students biking and walking to and from school is sometimes drastic and noticeable—kids get really excited to bike and walk more and parents quickly see the benefits of boosted health and academic readiness. But more often, it happens slowly and it is harder to see the change day to day.
Still, the answer is YES. It does work. School principals, teachers, parents and students have reported an increase in biking and walking at the majority of schools where SRTS programs have been implemented.
Some have successfully established walking school bus groups and bike trains. Several school districts have invested in bike fleets to continue annual bike and pedestrian safety education. Parents have told us their kids set up “bike rodeos”—like the ones we facilitate at schools—during playdates with friends. The change is happening.
The most exciting news, though, is that a recent, large-scale study showed that Safe Routes to School interventions (education, encouragement, enforcement) are associated with increased walking and biking rates.
Unlike previous studies, this one compared SRTS participants with a control group and tracked over 800 schools with varying populations around the country. The results were notable (nice summary here). Safe Routes to School programs are working.
We have a lot to be proud of. And, we are going to keep engaging families, schools and administrators to keep these kids walking and biking to school as we ring in 2015. And whether you start small or dive straight in, we encourage you to get involved, too!