There’s a national movement afoot to get more kids to walk and bike to school--and the momentum just keeps building. The reasons are clear. In 2009, only 13 percent of children ages five to fourteen walked or biked to school--compared to 48 percent in 1969. Studies have shown that even kids who live within a mile of their schools aren’t walking in significant numbers. But that’s starting to change. International Walk to School Day has become a major national event attracting millions of participants. Communities around the country are beginning to operate walking school buses--where supervising adults lead a busload of walkers to and from school. And, with the 2005 passage of Safe Routes to School legislation, hundreds of communities around the country are implementing programs to make school routes safer, more walkable, and more bikeable. It’s all part of an effort to get kids moving again--and to strengthen neighborhoods. There are a number of ways REALTORS® and REALTOR® associations can participate in this nationwide effort.
Organize a Walk/Bike to School Day
In 2010, millions of kids around the world participated in International Walk to School Day, and more than 3,500 schools registered for the event at the organization’s website. It’s easy to participate in International Walk to School Day, which is held on a designated date each fall. REALTORS® and REALTOR® associations can reach out to neighborhoods, schools, and families to organize a walk to their neighborhood schools. It’s an ideal way for REALTORS® and REALTOR® associations to have a real impact in their communities. And organizing a Walk to School Day costs nothing. It involves reaching out to the people and schools in your community and putting together a one-day event.
Some communities get creative. “One year, we did something called Walk with a Cop Day. We had police officers, deputies, and sheriffs walking the kids,” says Ira Weiss, a member of the Safe Routes to School committee in Pickerington, Ohio. “This year, we added our servicemen and women walking--so kids would feel comfortable walking with police officers but also with the military. That was a cool addition to the program.” Organizers around the country agree that politicians love to join the walks. Says Weiss, “We have the police chief, the mayor, the fire chief participating.”
If you’re interested in promoting walkability in general, participating in International Walk to School Day is an ideal way to test the waters. Registered participants gain access to downloadable support materials and an e-newsletter leading up to the event. Registering is not essential--but walking is. Participation builds awareness of the issues associated with improving walkability and can foster real change. According to a report published in 2009 by Walk to School, based on a survey of participants,
- 35 percent of Walk to School events fostered the addition of the promotion of walking and bicycling to existing school policies;
- 33 percent led to the addition of sidewalks, paths, crosswalks, or crossing guards in neighborhoods surrounding schools;
- 25 percent led to the addition of signage near schools.
Importantly, these events are part of a nationwide effort that is generating tangible results. Among the schools participating in the 2009 Walk to School event, 42 percent of those surveyed were engaged in Safe Routes to School programs--which aim to make walking and biking part of the daily routine of area elementary and middle schoolers.
Spearhead a KidsWalk-to-School Program
KidsWalk-to-School is a program sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has been instrumental in the nationwide effort to promote regular walking and biking to school. After all, the health consequences of low levels of physical activity among our children have been enormous. Over the past 30 years, obesity rates among U.S. children, and the incidence of associated health conditions, have skyrocketed. Walking and biking to school can make a difference.
The CDC provides tools for implementing a walk-to-school initiative in your community, including a checklist that provides details regarding how to
- engage parents, schools, and community leaders to organize a successful one-day walk/bike event;
- assess your community’s school routes and map a safe walk;
- hold a formal planning meeting to involve key stakeholders;
- and implement an ongoing community-based walk-to-school program.
Create a Walking School Bus
According to a comprehensive 2010 survey by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, when asked about the barriers to walking to school, parents of elementary and middle schoolers identified physical safety as a major concern--not because of crime but because of the distance to school, the high traffic speeds, the lack of safe crossings or crossing guards, and traffic volumes. Walking school buses provide an innovative way to address the safety issue. How does it work? Designated parents walk groups of children to school, picking them up along the way to school and dropping them off on the way home--just as a school bus does but on foot. To find out how to organize a walking school bus in your neighborhood or community, visit walkingschoolbus.org.
There are plenty of reasons to promote walking and biking to school. The most compelling may be the desire to encourage kids to be more active. But there are other benefits to these programs. Walking and biking to school reduces traffic congestion and gas emissions, and, long-term, it can help address the high cost of school busing that’s stretching school budgets. Just as importantly, it strengthens communities by bringing parents, children, and community leaders together. Studies have shown that walkable communities command higher property values. And, by participating in Walk to School Day, communities learn about the importance of improving the infrastructure that enables safer walking and biking--passable sidewalks, safe crosswalks, traffic signals equipped with countdown devices, and, for schools, crossing guards and bike racks. Walk to School Day builds awareness for walking or biking every day. See for yourself. Before launching any kind of walk-to-school program or event, test the route to your neighborhood school. By walking the school routes, you’ll learn more not only about how to make walking to school easier and safer, but also about how to make your overall community more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.
Smart Growth Action Grant1
NAR’s Smart Growth Action Grant program is available to support REALTOR® association efforts to implement programs and activities that position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by advancing Smart Growth principles. REALTOR® associations can apply for a Smart Growth grant to help them plan, develop, and implement a walk or bike to school day event or program.
International Walk to School Day2
Get all the basics on how to participate in International Walk to School Day and register your event online. An interactive map is available at the site so you can locate participating schools in your area. A walkability checklist is also available on the website.3
Walking School Bus4
Guidance on how to organize a walking school bus in your community, with resources and a downloadable PDF that provides guidance.
A Video of the Walking School Bus5
Watch this video to see how a walking school bus works.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a wealth of information on how to organize, promote, and publicize a Kids-Walk-to-School program in your community.
See related articles in Issues in Public Education, “School Building and Siting” and “Walkability and Safe Routes to School.”