National Center for Safe Routes to School Names Award in Honor of James L. Oberstar

WASHINGTON -- The National Center for Safe Routes to School has announced it will establish an annual award in the name of Congressman James L. Oberstar to honor his dedication to America’s school children. The James L. Oberstar Safe Routes to School Award will be presented each year to an outstanding Safe Routes to School Program.

Safe Routes to School is a national grass-roots initiative to encourage children to walk or bike to school instead of traveling by motor vehicle. The program includes developing "walking school buses," expanding sidewalks and bike paths, calming traffic patterns near schools, and teaching children the importance of pedestrian and bike safety. The initiative offers several benefits, including providing children with fresh air and exercise to improve their health, while reducing traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution.

An avid bicyclist, Congressman Oberstar is recognized as the leading bike advocate in Congress. As the senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Congressman Oberstar has led the way in promoting legislation that is bicycle-friendly. During his 32 years in Congress, he has shaped the nation’s surface transportation policies to encourage bicycling as an important alternative to travel by car or other motorized conveyance. He championed the Safe Routes to School program and built bipartisan support to secure its inclusion in the final version of a massive highway and transit bill last year. SAFETEA-LU, which was signed into law in 2005, included $612 million for grants over five years for communities in all 50 states to build bike lanes, sidewalks, and trails that will make it safer and easier for children to bike and walk to school.

"Childhood obesity rates are rising rapidly, while physical education classes are being cut out due to budget constraints. We must find a way to help promote healthy living habits at an early age, and this program has the potential to reverse the sedentary lifestyle that is all too common today," Congressman Oberstar said. "Small changes like adult supervision at intersections, better training of school patrollers, and improved sidewalks or bike paths are enough to encourage parents to let their kids walk or bike to school, instead of sitting on a bus or riding in a car. This program has the potential to improve the health and well-being of an entire generation of school children."

"We are pleased that the Safe Routes to School Award will bear the name of Congressman James L. Oberstar," said Lauren Marchetti, director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School. "His passion and vision have been the driving force behind this important transportation legislation that strives to reconnect children with their neighborhoods through safe walking and biking to school."

As of October 1, 2006, 48 states and the District of Columbia have state-level Safe Routes to School programs in various stages of progress.

"I am so honored that the National Center has recognized my efforts to enhance children’s health through the benefits of increased exercise. If this award calls more attention to positive ways to reduce childhood obesity and promote a healthier lifestyle, that is the greatest gift of all," said Congressman Oberstar.