Sometimes being safe and environmentally friendly can be fun.
The Santa Clara County Health Public Health Department is actively working to promote its Safe Routes to School program: They work to get kids on bikes or their own two feet to get to school, while getting cars off the road, and keeping kids more active and healthy.
“We focus on the five E’s—education, encouragement, evaluation, engineering, enforcement,” said Safe Routes to School Coordinator Alisa Arce. “We want to decrease congestion around schools, but we also want to increase physical activity, which will help prevent chronic disease in the future.”
Certainly, parents may dread the sight of lines of cars lined up around elementary and middle schools, waiting to pick up, or drop off their kids for the day. Safe Routes to School aims to decrease those lines by encouraging kids to use their pedal, or foot power to get to school on their own, or with their parents in tow.
“One mile of walking or biking to school amounts to two-thirds of the daily recommended 60 minutes of physical activity,” said Gilroy Bike and Pedestrian Commissioner Zach Hilton. “When kids get to school this way, they learn their streets, their neighbors, and it reduces traffic around schools. It’s good for the community and it will help to shape a better future. But, it’s up to us to show them the way.”
Safe Routes to School is both a national and international program that not only encourages safe behavior but teaches parents and teachers how to lead their own pedestrian safety efforts.
“It can be a lot of fun,” Arce said. “Kids get to know each other better while they’re exercising. Parents can also get to know other parents as well. It helps to build a happy and healthy community.”
Safe Routes to School also works with engineering and police departments in cities in the county, working to create an all-inclusive approach to educate the public what they can do to help, and how they can be part of the solution.
“It’s great for the environment too, since there are fewer cars out there,” Arce said.
One example of what Safe Routes to School can do is the “Walking School Bus,” where parents meet up twice a month to form a walking caravan of kids and parents to get to school together and safely.
Safe Routes to School also works with teachers to gain data from kids about who is, and who isn’t walking, biking or carpooling to school.
“This helps us to monitor if there’s an increase or a decrease; we want to share that this is having an impact,” Arce said.