by Melinda Caldwell, TSET Healthy Living Program Coordinator
As the new school year is approaching, many families are making their shopping runs to stock up on school supplies, and back to school clothes to prepare for the upcoming year. However, one major preparation that should be discussed within families is how the student will be traveling to and from school. While it is often assumed that children will be dropped off at school via a car or bus, giving students the option to participate in active transportation such as walking or biking to school can provide a sense of self-efficacy along with a slew of health benefits. According to the Safe Routes Partnership, students who walk one mile to and from school each day receive two-thirds of the recommended sixty minutes of physical activity needed for the day in addition to having higher levels of physical activity throughout the day.
In addition to parents discussing the options of walking or biking to school with their children, communities, and schools can share in responsibility by promoting Safe Routes to School efforts and policies to encourage safe active transportation to school. In Payne County, the Town of Glencoe and the City of Yale are taking this next step. In their June City Council meetings, both the Glencoe and Yale unanimously passed resolutions demonstrating the community’s commitment for children to safely walk to school. These communities now join the City of Perkins as having resolutions to encourage active transportation to school. These Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Resolutions outline the steps that each community will take to promote SRTS efforts at the local level.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, SRTS is an approach that promotes walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements, enforcement, tools, safety education, and incentives to encourage walking and bicycling to school. Nationally, 10%–14% of car trips during morning rush hour are for school travel. SRTS initiatives help to improve safety as well as increase levels of physical activity for students. SRTS programs can be implemented by a department of transportation, local government, school district, or even a school.
For small rural communities, these efforts can be what saves lives. In Yale, the school is located along Highway 51 with very few sidewalks and cars that frequently drive over the speed limit. While Yale already was implementing many of the steps in the resolution, it made sense to make a permanent commitment through a resolution to show the city’s dedication to child safety in the community. Every morning, the Yale Police Chief can be seen sitting outside of the school in his vehicle to discourage cars from driving over the speed limit. Yale has plans within the next five years to incorporate sidewalks to the school along highway 51 in their long-range transportation plans with ODOT.
However, until infrastructure is available to support SRTS efforts, it is even more imperative to talk to students about pedestrian safety when walking to and from school. Use the following guidelines provided by the National Center for Safe Routes to School to discuss appropriate pedestrian safety skills with your kids when walking to and from school in the upcoming year.
- Obey all traffic signs and signals.
- Choose routes that provide space to walk and have the least amount of traffic and lowest speeds.
- Look for traffic at all driveways and intersections.
- If possible, cross at a crosswalk or at an intersection with a walk signal.
- Stop at the curb and look for traffic in all directions (left, right, left, to the front and behind). At an intersection, it is important to look in front and in back to check for turning vehicles. The second look to the left is to re-check for traffic that is closest to you.
- Wait until no traffic is coming and start crossing; keep looking for traffic as you cross the road.
- Walk across the road. Do not run.
- Wear reflective gear if it is dark or conditions limit visibility, such as rain or snow.
- Talk with your child about what you are doing and why as you walk. Although you might be able to see quickly that it is safe to cross the road or make other decisions while walking, your child does not have years of experience to guide them like you do.