October is International Walk to School Month, a worldwide effort to promote physical activity and pedestrian safety. And today is 2010 Walk to School Day in the United States, where more than 3,000 schools have already registered their event, ranging from “walking school bus” commutes to walkability and bikeability checklists.
As part of today’s planned activities, children and their caretakers are taught the basics of road safety: “Look right; look left. Obey traffic signals. Do not enter the danger zone.” But what if we could live in a community where there are no “danger zones” for pedestrians? Where people — not cars — are the priority? And walking to school was the norm?
Children are among the most vulnerable users of the road. Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death worldwide among young people aged 10 to 24, according to the World Health Organization. And most of those deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. It’s no wonder that streets are a scary place for kids (not to mention for some parents, who fear things like child abduction and other awful scenarios for unsupervised young walkers.)
According to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, only 13 percent of children aged 5 to 14 walked or biked to school regularly, compared with 48 percent of students in 1969. However, federally funded programs like Safe Routes to School National Partnership and other community-based initiatives are helping to change travel behaviors and attitudes — and also encourage the government to provide more funding to create safe, accessible streets.
At TheCityFix, we write frequently about the environmental benefits of walking, with cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions as main reasons to travel by foot. But today is an important day to recognize the educational benefits of walking, too. “Not a schools issue, you say?” writes Change.org. “The students streaming into the sidewalks on Walk To School Day need a healthy atmosphere, safe passage through crosswalks and parking lots, and schools built on unpolluted soil.” Not to mention, walking can play a huge role in improving public health, especially by reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. And as we wrote last year for Walk to School Day, “independent experiences like walking to school are crucial for building kids’ self-confidence, autonomy and initiative.”
So, kids, put your best foot forward and enjoy the walk to school!