As the new school year is underway, families are making decisions about travel to and from school. More and more families are considering options for their children to walk or ride a bike to school.
The Safe Routes Partnership, a national group, offers ideas for communities to use in planning and preparing safer routes to school and shares relevant research about active transportation.
The research provides a helpful framework for understanding the importance of bicycling and walking investments. It also offers supportive ideas to inform how local decisions about transportation to and from school can address related issues such as childhood obesity, physical activity, academic achievement, clean and safe routes, traffic congestion and the built environment.
The Safe Routes Partnership has identified the relationship between providing support for safe routes to school, active transportation, physical activity, obesity and health, academic performance and attendance, and how these factors affect transportation decisions. Addressing safety for walking and bicycling can reduce bus and car usage, which can help reduce emissions and pollution. Walking or biking to and from school for an entire school year can save almost 200 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children ages six to 17 get at least an hour of physical activity daily. Walking or biking to school contributes to reaching this physical activity goal. Math and reading skills have shown to be the most improved academic skills for children who get regular exercise. Furthermore, the American Psychological Association found that children who get daily exercise have lower levels of stress and depression.
Local efforts to support walking and riding to school include Walk n’ Roll managed by San Jose. The Walk n’ Roll program is designed to increase the number of students who walk and bike to school and is available in a number of schools throughout the city. The program offers curriculum and events to teach safe walking and biking skills, including the importance of wearing bike helmets.
Lastly, school buses are back on the road. Drivers should be aware of the buses and be on the lookout for flashing lights. Even when lights aren’t flashing, watch for children, particularly in the morning or mid-afternoon around school arrival and dismissal times. Be alert as you back out of a driveway, or drive through a neighborhood, school zone or bus stop.
All drivers can help promote safety by remembering these rules about school buses:
- Yellow flashing lights on a school bus mean slow down. The bus is preparing to stop. There are likely students waiting to get on the bus or parents waiting nearby to pick up children.
- Red flashing lights mean stop—and wait at least 20 feet behind the bus—because children are getting on or off the school bus. Stay stopped until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop-arm is withdrawn and the bus begins moving.
Drivers should remain vigilant and obey crossing guard signals. Crossing guards play an important role in traffic safety during the arrival and departure of students and families from school. When existing gaps in natural traffic flow do not allow students enough time to cross streets safely, crossing guards may temporarily stop traffic to allow for safe crossings.
For those interested in playing a crucial role in community safety, school crossing guard job postings can be found on the job opportunities websites for each city.
Together, we can ensure all of our students are safe when going to and from school.
San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.