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.

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