Walk to School Day Celebrates Walkable, Active Communities Nationwide

Students, parents and community members in every state demonstrate the role walking and bicycling to school can play in student health and safety

This year, hundreds of thousands of students, parents and communities representing more than 3,700 schools across America walked and bicycled to school to celebrate International Walk to School Day. This one-day event in the United States is part of an international effort in more than 40 countries to encourage more families to get out of their cars and onto their feet to enjoy the many benefits of safely walking and bicycling to school.

“In its 15th year, Walk to School Day continues to inspire community-grown events that celebrate health, safety and a sense of community,” said Lauren Marchetti, director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School, which serves as the coordinating agency for the event and maintains the Walk to School website, www.walktoschool.org, with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. “Often, this one-day event becomes the catalyst to larger commitments and permanent improvements that make walking and bicycling to school safer transportation options year round.”

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood joined a group of Anne Beers Elementary School students in Washington, D.C., this morning on the walk to school, as a part of District Department of Transportation Walk to School Day celebration.

“As students across the country take to the streets this year for International Walk to School Day, it’s critical that parents and caregivers make safety their top priority,” said Secretary Ray LaHood, in an event press release. “Whether they’re walking to school or heading down the block, children need to know to look both ways, use crosswalks, and stay alert to stay safe.”

While safety is a focus for Walk to School day each year, this year’s event recognizes the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety.

"The goal of the Decade of Action for Road Safety is to save 5 million lives and prevent 50 million injuries over the next 10 years across the globe, and International Walk to School Day represents what the Decade is all about," said Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr, Director of Road Safety, FIA Foundation, on behalf of the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety. “The students who walk with us today are a symbol of the challenge facing us—to make sure that that every child, in every country, can walk to school safely every day.”

At a national level, walking and rolling to school also embodies two main goals of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign: To increase children’s physical activity and to empower parents to make these kinds of healthy choices.

Walk to School Day was founded in 1997 as a way to bring community leaders and children together to build awareness of the need for communities to be more walkable. By 2002, children, parents, teachers and community leaders in all 50 states and the District of Columbia joined nearly 3 million walkers around the world to celebrate the second annual International Walk to School Day. The one-day event has now grown to a month-long celebration, and the reasons for walking have grown just as quickly as the event itself.

“Each year the event continues to reinforce the importance of safer environments for walking and bicycling, more physical activity, fewer car trips, and a cleaner environment for students, parents and all community members,” Marchetti said.

The Federal Safe Routes to School Program, established in the SAFETEA-LU legislation, strives to create safe settings to enable more parents and children to walk and bicycle to school. More than 11,300 schools have already been part of funded programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Accomplishments include increases in walking and bicycling to school, speed reductions within the school zone, and reductions in school transportation costs. Program implementation continues to take place in urban, rural and suburban areas throughout the nation.

“The SRTS program is a great example of how communities use federal funds to improve safety for child pedestrians and bicyclists and to help children build healthy habits by walking and bicycling to and from schools,” Marchetti said.

As of October 5th more than 3,700 U.S. schools have registered their local Walk to School Day events on the U.S. Walk to School website, and this number is expected to increase throughout the month of October. The total number of participating schools each year is not fully reflected by the reported numbers on the Walk to School website because many communities participate without registering their events. To view the names and locations of registered U.S. schools participating in Walk to School Day 2011 visit www.walktoschool.org/who/index.cfm.

For more information, visit www.walktoschool.org.

For a complete list of other countries participating in Walk to School Day 2011, visit: www.walktoschool.org/whoswalking.

For past photos of International Walk to School Day activities, visit: www.iwalktoschool.org/photos.