Get Children Walking to School
by Leslie Miller -
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Every
weekday, 10-year-old Madeleine Greenfield sidesteps puddles where the sidewalks
aren't and braves a dangerous intersection under her mother's
She's just trying to
get to school, all of three blocks away.
"I can't cross at the
crosswalk without a light, so it's sort of a pain," the fifth-grader said last
week, grabbing her lunch and backpack as her mother picked up her baby sister
and herded her out the front door.
Madeleine is in the
minority: Fewer than one in 10 children walk or bike to school now, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirty years ago, more than
That's changing in
Arlington and in more than 50 cities and towns trying to get their children out
of cars and van pools and onto the sidewalks.
Three years ago,
parents pressured Arlington County to come up with money and a plan for
walkable routes to its 26 schools. Soon, Madeleine will have a sidewalk outside
her house and a safer intersection to cross by herself.
Each year, about 175
children are killed by motor vehicles while walking or riding bicycles between
home and school, according to a Transportation Research Board report. Per mile,
bicyclists have the highest rate of injury or death. Kids on foot are the next
Marin County, Calif.,
started a "Safe Routes to School" project in 2000 because of massive traffic
jams near schools.
Wendi Kallins, the
program director, said Marin County did the easy things first: adjusted traffic
lighting, put up new signs and painted crosswalks and bike lanes. Kids got
prizes when they kept track of miles walked or ridden.
"One of the biggest
obstacles we have to overcome is the fear factor," said Kallins. "Parents think
if they keep their child attached at the hip nothing will happen to
So Marin County parents
started "walking school buses," where they convoy groups of kids to school.
It's a concept used in Chicago city schools where gang crime is the biggest
threat to children.
After two years, the
number of children walking or biking to school in Marin County rose to 38
percent from 21 percent. No one was injured or killed.
Elizabeth Stevens, an
environmentalist, organized a successful Safe Routes to School program at her
daughter's elementary school in Arlington, Mass.
When snow discouraged
pupils from walking in February, Stevens formed a polar bear club. Despite 40
inches of snow and subfreezing temperatures, she shepherded about 45 kids
walking and talking about polar bears to school every day.
Ingenuity can help get
children walking safely, but in the end tax dollars are needed to build speed
bumps, extend curbs or install walk signs that indicate how many seconds people
have left to cross the street.
When the state of Texas
set aside $3 million for Safe Routes to School last year, 277 communities came
up with $45 million for projects.
Rep. James Oberstar,
D-Minn., recently filed a bill that would spend $1.5 billion over the next six
years for Safe Routes to School. Oberstar argues the money will end up widening
highways if it isn't set aside for specific safety programs.
The Bush administration
rejects that approach, preferring to let states decide how to spend $15 billion
for traffic safety over the next six years. That's double the $7.6 billion
spent in the past six.
Administrator Mary Peters said the administration is making safety a
"We trust state and
local officials," Peters said, suggesting it doesn't make sense to promote
pedestrian safety for South Dakota's wide-open spaces or drunken-driving
programs in largely teetotaling Utah.
walk-to-school programs are gaining new momentum from parents and teachers
concerned about a childhood obesity epidemic. With fewer children than ever
getting enough exercise, 13 percent of kids between 6 and 11 are
"Our society is waking
up and smelling the lard," said Peggy DaSilva, executive director of Walk San
Francisco, an advocacy group.
Teachers say the
program has unintended consequences: Children who walk to school are more alert
and better behaved than those who ride the bus.
Nancy Burns said she
noticed a significant difference in her students who participated in the Safe
Routes to School program at the Northstar Elementary School in Minneapolis.
"Healthy, alert children would be my No. 1 thing," she said.
mother, Star Lanman, said walking makes her feel more connected to her
community. "When you're able to walk to school, you feel like it's part of the
family," she said.
2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
privacy statement :
© 2003 The Durham Herald