This guest blog post was provided by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.
"Can we bike today? I want to meet Paco along the way so we can ride together." – Eli, age 9
"I am making Vision Zero holographic bracelets for students to wear. They are fashionable and keep students safe when they walk to school.” – Zion, age 12
“I like biking to school because my teacher said it’s good for the planet!” – Sage, age 4
From a kid’s perspective, walking or biking to school or to neighborhood destinations makes perfect sense. It’s fun, they get to spend time with family and friends, and being active makes them feel good. As adults, we know the benefits of walking and biking are tremendous. Getting around on foot or by bike helps make us healthier, reduce traffic congestion, decrease air pollution, and create friendlier, more inclusive communities.
But the way we have invested in transportation over the years has prioritized trips by car and made it less safe and less convenient for people to get around by foot and bike. As a result, there has been a steep decline in walking and biking, even for short trips. Consider the trip to school: in 1969, 48% of kids walked and biked to school. Today, only about 13% of kids walk. Even for short trips of less than a mile, more than 60% of kids are driven by their parents each day.
In addition, when streets are designed for cars, people who lack access to a vehicle bear the greatest risk to their health and safety. Overwhelmingly, kids who live in low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to walk or bike, but less likely to have access to safe sidewalks, bike paths, and street crossings.
Safe Routes to School programs are proven to:
- effectively increase walking and biking to school up to 43%
- make kids safer
- improve attendance
- improve heart health, well-being, physical activity levels, and Body Mass Index (BMI)
- decrease morning traffic congestion and traffic injuries
- reduce emissions that contribute to climate change
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s report Making Strides: 2018 State Report Cards on Support for Walking, Biking, and Active Kids and Communities analyzed how each state funds and supports Safe Routes to School.
Oregon is the only state that scored the maximum possible 25 points across the five Safe Routes to School indicators. Washington and Utah each scored 24 points, and eight other states including Minnesota scored 20 points or more. The remaining 39 states scored 19 points or fewer.
Minnesota’s Success Story
Strong state support in Minnesota has helped build a robust program benefitting nearly 500 schools and 110,000 students every two years. Safe Routes to School programs are so popular in Minnesota that annual funding requests have exceeded available dollars by as many as 5 to 1.
The state’s success in this area can be traced back to a legislative campaign that began in 2012, when the federal Safe Routes to School program was coming to a close. At that time, health and transportation advocates in Minnesota formed a broad coalition to build support for a dedicated state program.
The coalition was successful in establishing a state Safe Routes to School program, but it remained unfunded for the first year due to a significant state budget shortfall. In 2013, despite a continuing budget shortfall, the coalition built bipartisan support enabling passage of legislation that provided $500,000 over two years for Safe Routes to School program needs.
A grant from Voices for Healthy Kids in 2014 provided funding to hire a legislative campaign coordinator and a communications coordinator for the 2014 legislative session and to create a targeted communications campaign in tandem with American Heart Association staff. With broad bipartisan support from lawmakers and the public, the legislature approved $1 million for infrastructure funding and an additional $250,000 per year for programming. The annual funding also has bolstered the state’s bicycle and pedestrian safety education program, which has trained more than 700 teachers to provide walking and bicycling skills lessons to students.
Minnesota received full points in the State Report Cards for having retained its full-time Safe Routes to School coordinator position, even though regulations don’t require it, and for providing technical assistance through webinars, workshops, guides and outreach to help communities with funding applications. In addition, the state launched its Safe Routes to School Academy in 2016, which offers free training to help communities build a comprehensive Safe Routes to School program or take their existing program to the next level.
Minnesota’s strong score in the State Report Cards gives advocates even more leverage to build support. It demonstrates how a state’s commitment to supporting Safe Routes to School can lead to better health and activity outcomes for kids.
Bike to School Day
Help show your support for Safe Routes to School on May 8, National Bike to School Day. Learn more and get resources for your community or school at walkbiketoschool.org. And join us in advocating for kids’ health at Voices for Healthy Kids.