International Walk to School Day

Walking to School

By Amy Miller

My family lives in a village where we can walk to the post office, grocery store and pizza parlor. Most important of all, our children can walk to school, at least until sixth grade.

Nationally, only about 15 percent of children walk to school. This is a serious drop from when I was a kid. In 1969 about half of children 5 to 15 walked to school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of parents said their children don’t walk because it was too far. A third said the danger of traffic scared them. But the truth is only 31 percent of children who live within a mile of school walked or biked compared to closer to 90 percent in 1969.

A national Safe Routes to School program tries to address these barriers. It encourages schools, for instance, to arrange for children to meet within a mile of school and travel in “walking school buses.” It suggests crossing signals, better enforcement of speed limits and teaching children pedestrian skills.

One program in California saw a 64 percent increase in walking the second year of their program. Many towns, including mine, have instituted Walk to School Days. South Berwick has one such day a month and the streets are filled with children, teachers and parents using the sidewalks and getting exercise.

When my daughter began walking to fourth grade in 2007, she and her friends were often nearly alone on the road. Today, her younger brother passes other kids walking, boys on bikes and several other parents making the mile trek from downtown.

EPA, which has joined the effort to get kids out of vehicles, notes that the location of a school plays a large role in how children travel. When neighborhood schools are closed, children are more likely to drive, resulting in more air pollution and less exercise.

My family often strays from our goal. When it rains really hard, when we are driving anyway, when we are rushed to get to karate or dance, we drive. But most of the time we walk. And on these trips we get to kick snowballs down the street, greet neighbors along the way and practice times tables. And it is on these days that I feel there is no higher priority for 20 minutes of our day.

About the author:  Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Celebrate International Walk to School Day, Wednesday, October 5, 2011!

By Matthew Dalbey

A few years ago, my son Noah, then in first grade, received a stopwatch from his grandmother. That day we passed by the apartment where I lived when I was his age. Seeing a potential moment for father-son bonding, Noah and I used his stopwatch to see how long it took us to walk to school when I was in first grade. The distance was roughly the same as the distance between our own house and Noah’s school. At that time, Noah had to ride the bus to school because of a particularly hazardous street that divides our neighborhood, and it wasn’t safe for him to walk.

Both of our trips, by the way, were actually shorter than his typical bus trip –- walking to the bus stop (2 minutes), waiting for the bus (7 minutes), and the actual ride on the bus (8 minutes) for a total of 17 minutes.

The next year, on International Walk to School Day, I worked with our school’s PTA, the principal, and neighbors to create a walking school bus – a fixed route walking schedule that allowed a few adults to supervise the kids on their walk to school. Most kids in the neighborhood participated, as did many parents. The walking school bus returns periodically as an alternative to riding the bus. The families — the community as a whole — and the environment all benefit.

This year, International Walk to School Day is Wednesday, October 5. It’s a special day when communities and schools, parents, kids, and teachers make an extra effort to ensure that children have safe alternatives for getting to school other than riding on a bus or in a car. That we have to find a special day for our kids to do what many of us did every day seems unfortunate. It’s well worth the effort though, especially if it helps communities figure out ways to overcome existing barriers to walking to school. Walking or biking to school is not only good for children’s health and the environment; it’s also an indicator of a community growing in a sustainable way.

I’ll be walking Noah to school on Wednesday morning. What will you be doing?

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About the author: Matthew Dalbey is the director of the Federal & State Division of the Office of Sustainable Communities at EPA. OSC recently worked with the Office of Children’s Health Protection on creating voluntary school siting guidelines that encourage people to think about walkability – among other factors – when considering where to site school facilities in a community.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.