Help your kids celebrate International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 2

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WalkToSchoolDay_HomepageMapNot too long ago, most of us walked or biked to school. But now, most kids arrive at school via their parents’ cars or school buses. Wednesday, Oct. 2, is International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, and Sitka parents and teachers are encouraged to help their schoolchildren safely walk or bike to school on this day.

In 1970, more than half of all elementary school students ages 6-11 walked to school. By 2006, only 15 percent were walking to school. Alarmed by this trend, a group called the Partnership for a Walkable America started National Walk To School Day in 1997 as a one-day event aimed at building awareness for the need for walkable communities. In 2000, the event became international when the UK and Canada (both of which had already been promoting walking to school) and the USA joined together for the first International Walk to School Day. In addition to expanding into several other countries, the dates also have expanded and October is International Walk To School Month.

“Walking or biking to school is an excellent way to add some physical activity into your day,” said Doug Osborne, a health educator with the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC). “It can be a great way to start the day. Walking or biking can be a lot of fun. It’s also important to remember to be safe.”

WBTSD_12inch_ColorWalking or biking to school with their children is a good way for parents to catch up on what’s happening in their children’s lives. Other benefits to walking or biking to school include less traffic, cleaner air, and friendlier communities. Walking with their children is a good way for parents see if there are things along the route that can be done to improve safety, such as improving lighting, checking crosswalks and watching for aggressive pets along the route.

International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day is a great teaching tool for safety. Parents and teachers can teach the kids about road safety rules and the importance of being visible when they walk or bike alongside the roads. They also can check their kids’ clothes and backpacks to make sure they have reflective tape on them.

Why wearing white is not enough.

Reflective tape is particularly important as we enter the dark months of the winter. Students need to Be Safe, Be Seen, and reflective tape can make a big difference in their visibility. Not only are kids sometimes hard to be seen because they’re blocked by cars, but many cars in Southeast Alaska experience condensation problems during the fall and winter that make it hard to see through windshields. Reflective tape and blinking lights can make it so kids are seen hundreds of feet before they would be if they wore plain dark clothes. Parents can buy reflective tape from local sporting goods, fabric, and similar stores. Sometimes it’s available from local health organizations. The Center for Safe Alaskans (formerly known as the Alaska Injury Prevention Center) produced a YouTube video (also embedded below) that shows how reflective tape makes you easier to see, and will have some free reflective tape available starting in October 2019.

To learn more about International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, contact your local school to see if any events are scheduled, or check with the Alaska Safe Routes To School program. The official International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day website also has a lot of information about how to set up an event for your school, including tool kits to help you arrange an event. Even if your kids don’t walk the entire way to school, you can drop them off a mile or so away and walk in with them. Many parents create walking school buses to bring several students who live in the same area to school together in one group.

Built environment makes second-class citizens out of walkers and bikers

One of the biggest elements in walkability (and bikeability) is the built environment. Too many times, especially in the United States, our car-oriented culture means our built environment hampers walkability.

Some of the more common built environment issues include

  • wide multi-lane roads with highway speeds and no close, safe crossing places;
  • traffic signals that don’t give walkers time to safely cross the street;
  • no snow clearance of sidewalks and bike lanes during the winter;
  • major streets with no sidewalks or bike lanes;
  • and more.

During a recent trip to Anchorage for a medical procedure, I saw another one — intersections that force walkers to cross multiple streets instead of one. My example is the intersection of Benson Boulevard and Seward Highway (Northern Lights Boulevard and Seward Highway has the same problem), where people trying to walk from The Mall at Sears to Fred Meyer have to make three crossings (see red line in photo, click photo to enlarge it) instead of a direct crossing of only one street.

If you are a parent with young children, an elder, someone carrying lots of shopping bags, or someone who is injured, you are put in more danger with the three crossings than you are with one. But we have to move the cars and walkers crossing the street delays the traffic. In the meantime, the walker is having to cross six lanes of traffic on The Mall at Sears side of Benson (including turn lanes), six lanes of traffic on Seward Highway (with a safety median in the middle), and another four lanes of traffic on the Fred Meyer side of Benson, or 16 lanes total. If walkers could take the direct route, they only have to deal with seven lanes (including a left-turn lane) on Seward Highway.

If the concern is that walkers slow down traffic, one solution is to have traffic signals that have a pedestrian-only light in the sequence that allows walkers to cross before the cars can enter the intersection. When I went to school in Scotland as part of a college overseas study trip (many, many pounds ago), Edinburgh had several major intersections that had diagonal crosswalks with pedestrian-only lights, giving walkers a chance to take the most direct path across an intersection.

Making it easier for people to walk or bike makes sense for communities, not just for health reasons but for the economy. A recent study from London showed walkers, bikers and people using public transportation spend 40 percent more at local shops than motorists. In addition, when we promote safer walking and biking we take cars off the road and protect our environment.

Help your kids celebrate International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 10

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WalkToSchoolDay_HomepageMapNot too long ago, most of us walked or biked to school. But now, most kids arrive at school via their parents’ cars or school buses. Wednesday, Oct. 10, is International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, and Sitka parents and teachers are encouraged to help their schoolchildren walk to school on this day.

In 1970, more than half of all elementary school students ages 6-11 walked to school. By 2006, only 15 percent were walking to school. Alarmed by this trend, a group called the Partnership for a Walkable America started National Walk To School Day in 1997 as a one-day event aimed at building awareness for the need for walkable communities. In 2000, the event became international when the UK and Canada (both of which had already been promoting walking to school) and the USA joined together for the first International Walk to School Day. In addition to expanding into several other countries, the dates also have expanded and October is International Walk To School Month.

“Walking or biking to school is an excellent way to add some physical activity into your day,” said Doug Osborne, Sitka Community Hospital Director of Health Promotion. “It can be a great way to start the day. Walking or biking can be a lot of fun. It’s also important to remember to be safe.”

WBTSD_12inch_ColorWalking or biking to school with their children is a good way for parents to catch up on what’s happening in their children’s lives. Other benefits to walking or biking to school include less traffic, cleaner air, and friendlier communities. Walking with their children is a good way for parents see if there are things along the route that can be done to improve safety, such as improving lighting, checking crosswalks and watching for aggressive pets along the route.

International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day is a great teaching tool for safety. Parents and teachers can teach the kids about road safety rules and the importance of being visible when they walk or bike alongside the roads. They also can check their kids’ clothes and backpacks to make sure they have reflective tape on them.

Why wearing white is not enough.

Reflective tape is particularly important as we enter the dark months of the winter. Students need to Be Safe, Be Seen, and reflective tape can make a big difference in their visibility. Not only are kids sometimes hard to be seen because they’re blocked by cars, but many cars in Alaska experience condensation problems during the fall and winter that make it hard to see through windshields. Reflective tape and blinking lights can make it so kids are seen hundreds of feet before they would be if they wore plain dark clothes. Parents can buy reflective tape from local sporting goods, fabric, and similar stores. Sometimes it’s available from local health organizations. The Center for Safe Alaskans (formerly known as the Alaska Injury Prevention Center) produced a YouTube video (also embedded below) that shows how reflective tape makes you easier to see.

To learn more about International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day, contact your local school to see if any events are scheduled, or check with the Alaska Safe Routes To School program. The official International Walk (Or Bike) To School Day website also has a lot of information about how to set up an event for your school, including tool kits to help you arrange an event. Even if your kids don’t walk the entire way to school, you can drop them off a mile or so away and walk in with them. Many parents create walking school buses to bring several students who live in the same area to school together in one group.