Because the Tampa Bay area is so heavily populated, walkers and bikers have to compete daily with automobile traffic. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Rachelle Webb, the Safe Routes to School Community Educator at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, gives parents some tips to keep their kids safe if they walk or bike to and from school.
Why should parents and families consider walking or biking to school?
It’s fun! There’s a feeling of joy and independence that doesn’t fade. When walking or biking, parents and children get to appreciate things they don’t notice while driving — listening to the sounds of the neighborhood, seeing friends and neighbors and feeling connected with their community. Parents, children and friends can enjoy one another’s company without the usual distractions. Walking and bicycling events celebrate these experiences and help make them possible for others. They bring schools and communities together for a common purpose.
How does it promote healthier habits?
Walking and bicycling to school enables children to incorporate the regular physical activity they need each day while also forming healthy habits that can last a lifetime. Regular physical activity helps children build strong bones, muscles and joints, and it decreases the risk of obesity. In contrast, insufficient physical activity can contribute to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that children and adolescents get one hour or more of physical activity each day. Research suggests that physically active kids are more likely to become healthy, physically active adults, underscoring the importance of developing the habit of regular physical activity early.
Some parents might be a little wary of their child walking or biking to school from a safety standpoint. Tell us how Safe Routes to School helps to address this?
Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is an approach that promotes walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements, enforcement, tools, safety education, and incentives to encourage walking and bicycling to school. Nationally, 10%–14% of car trips during morning rush hour are for school travel. SRTS initiatives improve safety and levels of physical activity for students.
SRTS programs can be implemented by a department of transportation, metropolitan planning organization, local government, school district, or even a school. Extensive resources are available through a national center that schools can use to support bicycling and walking.
International Walk to School Day is coming soon. What is this and how can we get involved?
International Walk to School Day is a fun and interactive way to promote walking to school safely. In 1997, Walk to School Day began in the United States as a one-day event aimed at building awareness for the need for walkable communities. Expanding to become an international event in 2000, the United States joined the United Kingdom and Canada together for the first International Walk to School Day. Each October, International Walk to School Day is celebrated in more than 40 countries and in thousands of schools across the United States. Over time, it has become part of a movement for year-round safe routes to school. Last year in Florida, 343 schools participated in this one-day event. Thirty-one schools alone in Pinellas County participated.
We encourage anyone who wishes to participate to register their school. We suggest choosing a centralized meeting point and time to gather, for instance, a nearby church, recreation center, grocery store parking lot, etc. And secure approval to gather at this location. Reach out to your local law enforcement and fire rescue. Make them aware you are participating. If possible, they usually send out officers and fire fighters and units to help guide the way. Next, you want to publicize your event through announcements, emails or newsletters home to parents. This also generates excitement with the students. Also a good idea is to reach out to your local community partners and encourage participation and support.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report.