Back to school: what’s your route?

When you were a kid, how did you get to school?

In just one generation, the percentage of U.S. children walking or bicycling to school has dropped dramatically, from 42% in 1969 to13% in 2009. Even when school is a mere 1/4-1/2 mile away, kids are being chauffered by car half of the time. This has harmed children’s health:
  • Less physical activity has contributed to soaring rates of obesity (26.4% of Oregon children are overweight or obese, the 7th highest rate in the nation).
  • As parents drop off and pick up their children, idling engines pollute the air, triggering asthma attacks (approximately 67,000 Oregon children have asthma) and damaging hearts and lungs over the long term.
  • More traffic around schools puts those kids who do walk and bicycle at greater risk of being harmed by a car.

Driving kids to school also has implications for our environment:

  • Combustion engines pollute, impacting air quality and contributing to climate change.
  • Shepherding kids to school represents more than 10% of morning traffic—if reduced, we’d have less congestion and less pressure to build expensive new road capacity that simply beckons more drivers.

Health professionals and environmental advocates took notice of this trend several years ago and are working to reverse it. Safe Routes to School programs are improving the safety of roads, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings on routes to and from school and in nearby neighborhoods so that parents feel more comfortable letting their kids get to school by foot or bicycle, scooter or skateboard. These programs also teach kids walking and bicycling safety skills and—through fun activities like Walk Bike to School Day (on October 7 in 2015)—spark enthusiasm on the part of students and their families.

One of our favorite means for getting kids safely to school is the Walking School Bus. A walking school bus is simply a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. Parents in a neighborhood pick a place for everyone to gather at an appointed time, and the kids get an adult chaperone to make sure they get to school safely. The same concept can be applied to a group of children bicycling to school.

But what if your child lives too far from school to walk or bicycle or needs to lug a tuba to band practice? Your child may have yellow bus service, but—with a greater emphasis on youth’s needs—the regular transit system in your city could better serve your child if he or she needs to stay after school for extracurricular activities or tutoring support. Oregon Environmental Council is supporting a youth transit initiative that would help Oregon’s transit agencies provide free or reduced-price transit passes to youth and increase transit service to meet youth’s transportation needs.

One of OEC’s goals is to create life-long walkers, bicyclists and transit riders. To protect our planet, all of us need to get around on healthier, safer and non (or less) polluting forms of transportation. If you walk, bicycle and take transit as a kid, it’s far more natural for you to do so as an adult. Programs like Safe Routes to School are helping make this future a reality. Please join us in creating safe communities for your children (and you!) to bicycle, walk and take transit.

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Safe Routes to School: Statewide Town Halls

All Oregon kids deserve to have a safe route to school – and over the next few weeks you can add your voice to the conversation. The For Every Kid coalition is co-hosting Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Town Halls across the state and you’re invited! Each 90-minute event will include a brief presentation about the current SRTS program in that area, and an update about the 2017 legislative session and how safe routes to school may be included in the next transportation package. Food
January 13, 2017, 9:18 pm


Why safe routes to school?

Our kids are getting less exercise than any previous generation. One in four kids in Oregon is unhealthy and at great risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension—and eventually early death. Something as simple as walking to school every day isn’t an option for many families in Oregon. Too many communities lack safe sidewalks, bikeways, and crosswalks. Did you know that 20% of morning traffic is parents driving kids to school? Making it safe for kids and families to w
November 16, 2016, 12:23 am


1 Reply to "Back to school: what's your route?"

  • Chris Hagerbaumer
    August 18, 2015 (7:33 pm)

    If you live in the Portland metro area, sign the petition urging Metro to fund safe routes to school: Safe Routes to School For Every Kid.

    And thank you Our Healthy Streets for circulating this For Every Kid petition!