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Would it surprise you to know that in 1969 almost 50% of children walked or biked to school?  Today, if you’ve ever survived the morning drop-off line at your neighborhood school, it probably wouldn’t surprise you that less than 15% do so now.  For those of us of raised  on the 1969 side of the statistical curve, the freedom a bicycle offered was incredible. We didn’t even think of it as great exercise, riding a bike was just something that we all took for granted as the way to get around.

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Today, changes in culture, neighborhoods, public policy, and lifestyles are often at odds with the simple idea of children being able to ride a bicycle (or for that matter – walk, skateboard, or skip) to school.  We were reminded of this fact again with an excellent article in Bicycling Magazine entitled, “Why Johnny Can’t Ride” that features one group of parents’ challenge in changing a policy that forbids children from riding a bicycle to their neighborhood school, even if escorted by a parent.  By working with the school and community leaders, these parents are having some limited success with their efforts, but they continue to face challenges that many parents will recognize – traffic, distance, logistics and child safety.

Design can be a part of the solution that enables safer transportation alternatives for children.   As architects we can’t tell a parent how their children should get to school, but with good design and community involvement we can create and enable options so that they feel like they have a choice.  School sites near existing parks and trails, provide an excellent opportunity to tie bike routes together for a safe trip to school.  Even if bike paths are not available considering how ALL traffic, vehicular and pedestrian, flow into and out of a school site can increase safety.  Too often, bike rack locations are an afterthought and not located in a secure and accessible areas rather than an integrated part of the transit solution for a school.  This integrated thinking is critical for  truly successful transit accessibility.

If you are looking for ways to support or bring alternative transportation methods to your school, there are many excellent resources on the internet (links below) for districts, communities, and parents.  They provide useful information for how to provide safe alternative transportation options for schools by considering infrastructure, education, and financial factors.  Programs such as Walk To School Day, and Bike to School Day also help show the possibilities and fun of leaving the car and bus behind.  To close, here are few facts to consider from the Safe Routes To School website:

  1. In 2009, 30 billion vehicle miles and 6.5 billion vehicle trips were make taking children to and from schools, representing 10-14 percent of traffic on the road during the morning commute.
  2. Returning to 1969 levels of walking and bicycling to school could save 3.2 billion vehicle miles, 1.5 million tons of CO2 and 89,000 tons of other pollutants—equal to keeping more than 250,000 cars off the road for a year.
  3. Walking one mile to and from school each day is two-thirds of the recommended sixty minutes of physical activity a day.
  4. Approximately 55% of children are bused, and we spend $21.5 billion nationally each year on school bus transportation, an average of $854 per child transported per year.  Eliminating one bus route can save about $45,000/year.

Finally, don’t forget these upcoming dates!

June 27, 2012 is Bike to Work Day: see http://www3.drcog.org/biketowork

October 3, 2012 is National Walk to School Day: see http://www.walkbiketoschool.org/

May 8, 2013 is National Bike to School Day: see http://www.walkbiketoschool.org/ready/about-the-events/bike-to-school-day

References and Resources:

Bicycling Magazine, “Why Johnny Can’t Ride: http://www.bicycling.com/news/advocacy/why-johnny-cant-ride

Safe Routes to School National Partnership: http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/

CDC Kids Walk-to School: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/kidswalk/then_and_now.htm

National Center for Safe Routes to School: http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/

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