Submitted by Ben Hammer, Safe Routes to School Statewide Coordinator.
The Safe Routes to School Program is a service of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and will be celebrating International Walk to School Day on Wednesday, October 5.
When I first heard about, “ Safe Routes to School” I thought of sidewalks, safe crosswalk areas, and crossing guards. But, as the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Statewide Coordinator, I’ve learned that the program is so much more than that. SRTS is a free service of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation aimed at improving safety around elementary and middle schools throughout the Commonwealth and encouraging the healthy transportation options of bicycling and walking.
The need to get our kids moving again is pressing, as shown by two strong national trends that are going in opposite directions – and both the wrong way. In 1969, almost half of American children bicycled or walked to school, but today that number has plummeted to less than 16 percent. At the same time, almost one fifth of children age 6-11 years are overweight, more than triple the amount in 1969. In Massachusetts, almost one-third of high school and middle school students are overweight or obese. In some communities, school-related traffic contributes to rush hour traffic delays and significant air pollution.
Currently, nearly 400 schools in 124 communities (serving over 180,000 students!) are participating in Safe Routes to School. Through SRTS, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) educates and trains students, parents, and the school community on transportation, safety, and health benefits from walking and bicycling to school.
In addition, the program provides expertise to identify and fund infrastructure school access and safety improvements, such as sidewalks, traffic calming measures, and on or off-street bicycle facilities. These improvements can make biking and walking to schools easier and safer, and increase walking and bicycling around schools.
SRTS is a key component of the Healthy Transportation Compact, an initiative of the Patrick-Murray Administration's historic transportation reform. The Healthy Transportation Compact promotes collaboration between the departments of transportation, health and human services, and energy and environmental affairs, and provides a way to share best practices, increase efficiency, and foster positive health outcomes through the coordination of land use, transportation, and public health policy.
Safe Routes to School is federally-funded and administered by the MassRIDES travel options program on behalf of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. To find out how your school can participate, please contact me at 617-892-6089 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Mass.gov/MassDOT/SafeRoutes.
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