Saving Safe Routes to School
What’s the Big Deal?
Safe Routes to School has kept me busy for the last four years.
I have been working in the Education Department at Bicycle Colorado since early 2010. Since then, my coworkers and I have taught in 113 schools, and reached over 50,000 students with our Safe Routes to School programming. Our team teaches elementary (and sometimes middle) school students about the benefits of biking and walking to school and how to do it safely. We also help students practice their riding skills on our bicycle rodeo course. It is one of the coolest jobs out there.
While I am not teaching as much as I used to, I occasionally have the chance to spend a day or two back in a school. This happened yesterday. I spent my Wednesday outside riding bikes with a bunch of enthusiastic elementary school students.
The kids couldn’t believe that they had the chance to ride during the school day. We had seven children learn how to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time. I even had the opportunity to practice what I preach and was able to ride my own bicycle to school. The day was cold and windy, but still full of excited kids. It was a great day.
It was also a day where I was instantly reminded of why these kids need this program. They need to learn how to be confident on a bicycle. They need to learn how to safely cross a crosswalk. They need to know the importance of wearing a helmet and the health benefits of living an active lifestyle. They need to learn that they can get where they need by foot and by bike. Kids these days are not as healthy as they used to be, and with this program, we are giving them the tools to turn that around. Safe Routes to School is a big deal. A big deal to a lot of people.
What We See
Within the first 30 minutes at school, I saw firsthand the challenges that so many schools face: crowded parking lots during pick-up and drop-off times, lines of parents idling in their cars, chaotic hug-and-go lanes, children darting out to cross the street mid-block. Parents are often concerned that it is not safe for their kids to bike or walk to school because there is too much traffic, so they drive as well.
This picture on the right shows a line of cars extended for two blocks waiting to pick students up after school. This is not an uncommon sight at an elementary school.
My job at Bicycle Colorado is to help schools navigate solutions to their before- and after-school stints of chaos. We want to get a dialogue started about the best next steps to reduce traffic in front of school. We want to provide resources on how to start a walking school bus or bike train. We want to coach parents, teachers, administration and motivated neighbors to advocate for their schools.
These are real problems. And the more we ignore them, the worse they are going to get. Even if you don’t have school-aged children, you have probably seen these issues in your neighborhood, or run into school traffic on your way into work.
And these issues come up at almost every school. We see many families choosing to attend schools other than their neighborhood school. I have parents tell me all the time that they live too far to bike or walk to school. This makes perfect sense. Also, many parents work, and weather can be unpredictable, and…
I recently had a school principal plead for help with redesigning the flow of her school parking lot during peak hours. She told me that parents were rushed in the morning and often disobeyed traffic signs and cones, even while she was standing out there waving to them. The school has had several near misses with students and cars.
While we are in the process of examining the best solutions for redirecting traffic and getting new signs at this particular school, it is important to look at some simple solutions as well. Infrastructure changes take time and cost a lot of money.
Keep it Simple
However, setting up a remote drop-off program is fairly easy. Choose a park, tennis courts, parking lot or any other good drop off place away from school and have a group of kids walk or bike in from there with a chaperone. Establish a walking or biking group with students on your block. Volunteer to help at a crosswalk before or after school so kids are safer when crossing. Educate parents and students on how to be safe when they are out walking or biking.
Come On, Try It!
It is easy to get kids excited to bike or walk to school. Parents are the difficult ones to convince. We adults seem to resist anything that is out of our comfort zone. What we suggest is to start small.
Try walking with your kids one day a week. Everyone will get to spend some good quality time together, and who wouldn’t benefit from a little outside time at the beginning of each day? Try riding bikes with your kids on the weekends. Pick a destination, be it school, the park or the library. Practice riding to school on the weekends so you are prepared to do it on a school day. Safe Routes to School can applied to everyone, everywhere. To school, to work, to play. (Shhh, you might even notice that it’s more fun than getting around in your car!)
Now, Help Us Save It: House Bill 1301
Safe Routes funding is in jeopardy in Colorado and we need your help NOW to save it. Safe Routes to School programs across the state have such great momentum- now it is our turn to help keep this important program going.
Learn more about how you can take action and help us save our funding. It is easy and will only take a couple minutes of your time. I urge you to contact your local representative and tell him or her why Safe Routes to School is important in your life. I have plenty of inspiring stories to share if you need some.
What does Safe Routes to School mean to you as a parent/advocate/believer? What advice do you have for someone looking to get a program started?