In what can certainly be classified under the “sad state of affairs” category, some recent news out of Tennessee, where a mom has actually threatened with arrest if she continues to let her 5th-grade daughter bike to school, a mere mile away from her home. The mom has been told it’s illegal for her daughter to ride alone to school.
With the school year kicking off this week, how to get kids to school is on the minds of parents, school administrators, and law enforcement officials alike. Kids face many obstacles in their efforts to walk and bike to school; lack of sidewalks or protected bike lanes and ignorant drivers are at the top of the list.
How did we get to the point where children literally are not allowed to ride their bikes to school? Many of us remember a time when walking and bicycling to school was a part of everyday life. In 1969, about half of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, however, fewer than 15 percent of all school trips are made by walking or bicycling, one-quarter are made on a school bus, and over half of all children arrive at school in private automobiles. We’re not doing our kids any favors by encouraging this sedentary lifestyle — nor are we doing any favors to our communities or our environment. This decline in walking and bicycling has had an adverse effect on traffic congestion and air quality around schools, as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety. In addition, a growing body of evidence has shown that children who lead sedentary lifestyles are at risk for a variety of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Safety issues are a big concern for parents, who consistently cite traffic danger as a reason why their children are unable to bicycle or walk to school.
The Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program is designed to address these issues head on. At its heart, the SRTS Program empowers communities to make walking and bicycling to school a safe and routine activity once again. The Program makes funding available for a wide variety of programs and projects, from building safer street crossings to establishing programs that encourage children and their parents to walk and bicycle safely to school.
The goal of New Jersey’s Safe Routes to School Program is to assist New Jersey communities in developing and implementing projects and programs that encourage walking and bicycling to school while enhancing the safety of these trips. These programs can bring a wide range of benefits to students and the community. These include an easy way for children to get the regular physical activity they need for good health and even to ease traffic jams and reduce pollution around schools. A major goal of the program is to increase bicycle, pedestrian and traffic safety. Successful Safe Routes to School programs in the United States usually includes one or more of these approaches: engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement.
The Greater Mercer TMA is the local SRTS coordinator for Mercer and Ocean counties in New Jersey. If you’re interested in learning more about SRTS in your community, please contact GMTMA’s SRTS Coordinator Rebecca Hersh at firstname.lastname@example.org.