“Back in my day, we had to walk ten miles back and forth to school. In the snow! Uphill both ways!”
It’s probably been a long time since you fell for that classic joke. But even though your grandfather probably didn’t walk uphill both ways to school, there is a good chance he did walk to school. Unfortunately, many kids these days don’t have a chance to say the same.
Back in 1969, 48 percent of K-8th grade students walked or bicycled to school. By 2009, only 13 percent of K-8th grade students were walking or biking to school. This uptick in students driving to school has had a big impact on communities. For example, did you know that 10-14 percent of all vehicular traffic between 7 and 9 A.M. is school-related? Moreover, many communities lack the urban infrastructure that would make walking or biking to school safe for children. For all these reasons and more, Congress passed federal legislation in 2005 establishing the National Safe Routes to School program. The new program would fund projects to improve the safety of children walking and biking to school, and encourage families to travel between home and school using these modes.
Safe Routes has been up and running now for almost a decade. The program is managed at a local level, ensuring that communities have a stake and a say in designing their unique implementation of Safe Routes to School. Funding is often allocated to improve street safety near schools (think: crossing guards and bike lanes), as well as to design fun campaigns that rally students and educate families about active transportation. Community leaders are experimenting with all sorts of innovative tools for activating communities around walking and biking to school. In San Mateo, California and Clark County, Nevada, one new approach to engaging students in Safe Routes is Zamzee.
This fall, nearly 300 children across school districts in San Mateo and Clark County received Zamzee activity meters and website accounts. Zamzee will rally students around walking and biking to school by making active transportation fun and rewarding. Students will receive free accounts to Zamzee’s research-proven motivational website, which increases physical activity by almost 60%. On the flipside, Safe Routes to School program administrators will use analytics from the Zamzee for Groups Dashboard to see how many minutes students were active before and after school, as well as throughout the rest of the day. With Zamzee, administrators will be able to accurately measure the effectiveness of their Safe Routes program while simultaneously motivating kids to be more active and managing the program’s implementation in their community.
The ultimate goal of the Safe Routes to School program is to re-engage families in active transportation between home and school. It’s an ambitious goal, but with a multi-faceted and grassroots approach, we know it’s possible to dial back the percentage of cars on the road. And besides, when our kids become grandparents, they, too, deserve the right to tell their grandchildren that they “walked 10 miles to school, in the snow, uphill both ways.”
 Check out more interesting data about the changes in school transportation here: http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/data-central/national-progress/federal-reports