Walking to School

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By Gina Snyder

At a recent visit to Birchmeadow Elementary School in my hometown to talk to students about our watershed, I noticed a poster on the wall saying “October is National Walk to School Month”. I was delighted – not just because walking is good for public health and the environment, but also because I had just learned that this would mean students would be more attentive when I spoke.

At a recent lecture by Mark Fenton, an adjunct professor at Tufts University, I learned that teachers can tell when children walk or bike to school. “They are better behaved in class and more ready to learn,” Fenton had said.

Fenton, a nationally known public health and transportation consultant and former host of the “America’s Walking” series on PBS television, noted that obesity among children is so widespread that this generation will be the first to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Whether we have children or not, we can all help students to live healthier lives.

For instance, by driving respectfully and stopping for pedestrians, we can encourage walking and biking. Like many people living in the Boston area, I have nearly been run over by crazy drivers, so I know the role drivers play in making walking safer.

Drivers can also become role models by leaving cars home. It’s healthier and better for the environment when we use our own people-power to get around.

And remember, children learn through experience. Walking with adults lets children practice crossing streets.

As you walk, follow these tips:

  • Look for traffic at each driveway and intersection. Be aware of drivers in parked cars getting ready to move.
  • Obey traffic signs and signals.
  • Cross the street safely.

Wear bright-colored clothes, and carry flashlights or wear reflective gear if it is dark or hard to see.

As days get shorter, don’t let darkness keep you from walking. When walking or biking at dawn or dusk, wear light-colored clothing and add reflective gear. Also, carry a flashlight – point the beam downward and slightly outward, and move it as you swing your arm with your natural walking rhythm.

When bicycling in dark or low light, have a headlight. Massachusetts law requires a front white headlight and a rear red reflector or red light on bicycles operated between 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes after sunrise.

So, keep stepping, peddling, or pounding the pavement – safely! It will be good for your health and for the environment.

About the author: Gina Snyder is an engineer at EPA’s New England office and volunteers with the Ipswich River Watershed Association and Walkable Reading. A 10-year participant in the Garden Club’s Adopt-an-Island program, Gina is hoping to help her home town plant rain gardens.