2012 is already a busy year for the National Center for Safe Routes to School. I recently returned from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting, where it was good to see so much interest in pedestrian and bicycle travel that relates to safe routes to school. For instance, one of the priority research areas identified in the TRB Bicycle Committee’s new three-year strategic plan is encouraging lifelong bicycling habits by inspiring children to bicycle – and ensuring that we accommodate their unique needs when planning and building infrastructure. It’s truly fortunate to have a diverse group of transportation researchers and professionals discussing and working toward a goal that relates so closely to safe routes to school.
This week, I’ll have the honor of presenting the 2011 Safe Routes to School Award to two schools. At Heatherwood Elementary School in Boulder, Colo., an ambitious SRTS program of education and encouragement activities augmented infrastructure changes to ultimately increase the percentage of students regularly walking and bicycling to school from 12 percent to more than 43 percent. At Omro Middle School in Omro, Wis., SRTS program coordinators an innovative cycling program using a fleet of more than 35 bicycles maintained by the school’s “Young Mechanics.” These comprehensive SRTS programs truly changed the walking and bicycling culture for students. To learn more, read the official announcement.
We’re very pleased to be coordinating the first-ever National Bike to School Day on May 9, as a part of the League of American Bicyclists’ National Bike Month. Many communities and schools have been holding spring walk and bicycle to school events for years, and we’re excited to extend their efforts nationwide.The event builds on the popularity of Walk to School Day, which is celebrated across the country – and the world – each October. We are fortunate to have coordinated that event for 15 years now.
In support of year-round SRTS efforts, the National Center is creating “Map-a-Route,” a tool to help parents and coordinators plan and communicate routes for events, walking school bus and bike train routes and individual routes to school. This new tool will be unveiled with the redesigned Walk to School Day website. Keep your eyes open for a new URL – www.walkbiketoschool.org – and new and improved resources and support for Walk to School Day, Bike to School Day and year-round walking and bicycling programs. These new resources will go live in April. Oh – and rest assured – www.walktoschool.org will continue to work, automatically sending visitors to www.walkbiketoschool.org.
The National Center is also working with PedNet to develop an online Walking School Bus training. We get a lot of questions about walking school buses, so we’re glad to provide this free training starting this summer. We’ve recently updated the SRTS Guide. We’re also planning to release a resource soon about how best to prioritize infrastructure improvements.
In the coming months, we look forward to learning about the results of our spring mini-grant recipients. Twenty-six schools, municipalities and organizations from across the country received $1,000 each to support projects designed to encourage students and their families to safely walk and bicycle to school this semester. Learn more about what’s going on at mini-grant schools at www.saferoutesinfo.org/about-us/newsroom/spring-2012-mini-grants.
As Congress grapples with what the new transportation bill might look like and what forms Safe Routes to School programs might take, SRTS state coordinators continue to do great work, making it safer and more appealing for children to walk and bike to school. This is exemplified by the record number of outstanding applicants we received for the SRTS award and the fact that the judges felt the need to recognize two schools for the first time. And we know that there are so many more programs out there doing outstanding and innovative work. The hard work that state coordinators and local heroes do across the country to help children be safer and more active is so evident.
All the best,
National Center for Safe Routes to School