Kudos to the people working to implement the Safe Routes to School programs in area cities – and cities beyond.
Just about every adult can recall how they rolled their eyes when their parents bragged about how, in the old days, they had to walk a mile or more to school every morning – rain or shine, hot or cold.
“Yeah, right,” kids tend to say, followed by a dismissive “Whatever.”
But the fact is, kids, it’s true. In the good old days, part of the “good” (usually) is that most kids did walk to school. It was just what a kid had to do, and so nobody complained – well, not too much, that is. By walking (or biking) to school, kids in the olden times got their exercise, felt pert and alert when they arrived at school (once they defrosted in the winter, that is) and had a chance to shoot the breeze with school chums and share the latest scuttlebutt on the way to and from school. And it’s the truth some kids did walk a mile or more every day to and from.
Safe Routes to School is a program of the Minnesota Department of Transportation that encourages cities, through grants and other assistance, to develop, implement and encourage children to walk or bike to school.
What’s great about SRTS is it requires research and the collection of data bearing on every aspect of pedestrian safety and opportunities for safe walking and biking. It includes such factors as traffic volume, traffic patterns, lay-out and conditions of streets, distance of homes from school sites, law enforcement, speed limits and the availability (or plans for) sidewalks and/or hiking-biking trails.
Another big plus of STRS is its recognition that networking must be done to make the plan work. That network includes school-safety programs; fitness programs; parents-teachers-administrators working together; the input from law enforcement; expertise from street departments and city engineers; and comments from the children themselves, especially about the barriers to safety while walking or biking.
The City of Sartell has become a recognized statewide leader in SRTS because of its highly detailed and effective planning and implementation plan. Other cities have begun to model their own programs based on the Sartell plan. However, other cities, too, are also making strides in the research process, including St. Joseph.
Studies have shown so many benefits to children when they walk or bike to school. They arrive at school after a pleasant bout of physical activity, which gets their learning juices flowing. Their attention span and diligence for school work is given a boost. The physical activity has been known to decrease depression and anxiety levels, and the students are generally just more upbeat and positive in every respect. The daily walking or biking is also proven to help students keep a more appropriate body weight, helping fight the obesity so common in children (and adults) these days.
We hope SRTS programs start succeeding, big-time, everywhere. It is a win-win program, no doubt about it, for everyone.