Walk and Bike to School — Safely

Remember when most kids walked or biked to school? Now walks to and from school are often replaced by car and bus rides. As a result, kids are not as “practiced” in the safe walking or biking behaviors as they were just a few decades ago. Even worse, the lack of physical activity has added to the problem of childhood obesity.

“Parents have always wanted what’s best for their children. For many reasons, parents often believe driving their children to school is what’s best,” said Lauren Marchetti, director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School. “But from house to car to school is adding to a sedentary lifestyle. The long-term results of this are not so good. And now many parents and communities are starting to rethink this. Active lifestyles need to be a safe option.”

Biking or walking to school can help kids increase their physical activity. In fact, children who walk or bike to school report being more physically active than those who get to school by bus, car or train. Walking or biking to school can help kids control their weight and build strong bones and muscles, while also helping them become more independent.

How are communities creating safe routes to school?

In Corrales, New Mexico, schools, businesses, community leaders, parents and city officials worked together to help encourage students to walk or ride their bikes to school. Safe Routes to School also supported their efforts.

In an area packed with traffic congestion and a lack of curbs and sidewalks, it was not a simple task. Wanting to to find the safest routes to school, organizers decided to use the ditch banks of the acequias, community irrigation canals, as an easy biking path.

Monthly “Walk-N-Rolls” helped get students moving by either walking or biking to school. Then they increased these events to three times a week. A tough change at first for parents, the community helped them by volunteering to help walk students to school.

Parents, local retirees and volunteers from the Kiwanis Club all helped out. Local businesses began donating incentives and coupons, such as passes to the local swimming pool and movie theater, to students who walked and biked to school.

The results?

A lot more kids are now walking or biking to school, and safely getting more physical activity in the process. Before the program, very few students could safely navigate their way to school. Now local schools are reporting that more than a quarter of all students are walking or biking to school on any given day.

The Corrales example shows that everyone can have a role to play in helping kids stay active and safe. And as Marchetti reminds us, “a low cost way of doing something can still accomplish great good.” You don’t have to have a big city budget to help organize volunteers or other support.

Back to school Tips to make getting to and from school more active and safer:

  • Don’t allow kids younger than age 10 to bike or walk alone.
  • Work with other volunteers to create a “Walking School Bus” or “Bike Riding Train.” Parents or volunteers walk or ride bikes from house to house picking up more students along the way.
  • Kids should ride their bikes on the right side of the road — going the same direction as traffic.
  • Be sure kids know to come to a complete stop before crossing the street and always wear helmets when riding a bike. 
  • Tell kids to walk on sidewalks whenever possible. If there are no sidewalks, they should walk facing traffic, as far to the left as they can.
  • When crossing streets, teach kids to try to make eye contact with drivers before crossing in front of them at corners and crosswalks.
  • Talk to your school about adding well-trained crossing guards in school zones.
  • Use this searchable map to find federally funded Safe Routes to School projects where you live.
  • Ask city or county officials how your neighborhood could be safer for kids getting to and from school. A community might consider adding marked crosswalks, improved lighting, new or modified street signs, or better traffic signals.
  • Work with your community and school to participate in Walk to School day in October or Bike to School day in May.

This could be your town! Learn more about building a Safe Route to School program in your area and you could be a local hero!

Are you doing enough to encourage your children to be active? Tell us how below and take my back-to-school poll!