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Three Ways to Make Walking to School Safer

Today, in the United States and in dozens of other countries—including Brazil, Fiji, India, and Turkey—millions of kids are walking to school for International Walk to School Day.

Promoting walking builds lifelong healthy habits, and normalizes walking as part of the family’s lifestyle. But kids can’t reap the benefits of physical activity as they travel to and from school if there are not enough sidewalks or paths for them to walk on, or because they’re breathing polluted air, or because they don’t feel safe.

If kids can take a safe route to school, it can improve their health outcomes, potentially reducing rates of obesity, traffic-related injuries, and even asthma.

Paving the way for kids to walk to and from school safely is especially important because it’s a great way to address the needs of all kids. All children, regardless of what other activities they do or places they go, attend school. When schools promote physical activity by not just allowing but encouraging kids to travel to and from school on foot or on wheels, we’ll do a better job reaching this generation with the lesson of how important it is to be active.

Kids who are active are also more likely to arrive at school focused and ready to learn. It’s a test score-boosting side effect that pays off in better class performance.

Here are some ways to make sure your community provides a safe and healthy environment for kids walking to school not just today, but every day:

Create a “walking school bus”

Some districts or individual schools have organized groups of students who walk together through neighborhoods, sometimes escorted by adult leaders, to get to school. Whether these groups are formally or informally organized, they’re great ways to keep kids safe as they travel.

Stagger school arrival and dismissal times

It’s better to keep kids on foot or bike separate from cars and buses that are arriving to drop off or pick up students. By staggering arrival and departure times, kids that walk or bike can steer clear of traffic and congestion.

Work with local government to create bicycle, pedestrian or trail plans

Whether these plans stand alone or are part of a more comprehensive transportation plan, they can help serve as a guide to communities looking to put in more walking and bike paths through their neighborhoods.

These ideas are included in ChangeLab Solutions' recently released roadmap, which offers 13 policy options to help kids travel to and from school actively and safely.

Do kids in your community walk to school? What changes would make your community a safer and healthier place for kids to be active?

To learn more about ways to put policy in place that helps kids stay active on their way to and from school, check out ChangeLab Solutions’ publications, including Safe Routes to School and Backing Off Bike Bans: The Legal Risks of Banning Bicycling To School. Is your community considering putting a safe routes to school policy in place? Try our brand new interactive policy builder.

Image courtesy of Lydia Daniller/ChangeLab Solutions

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