Teach a Kid to Fish has recently completed an 18-month long federally funded program through Safe Routes Nebraska that we entitled Lincoln Walks to School. Lincoln Walks to School instituted a district-wide education and informational program and assessment aimed at promoting safety and the benefits of walking and biking to school for all students of Lincoln Public Schools elementary and middle schools. The overall goal of this project is the creation of a social norm within the district that is accepting and supportive of walking and biking to school and school-related activities, thereby increasing the number and safety of those walking and biking to school. Teach a Kid to Fish is an organization whose mission is to find community solutions to the epidemic of childhood obesity. We feel that promoting the safety and benefits of walking and biking to school is a vital part of our mission. This was accomplished by educating parents, teachers and students on safe walking/biking practices and on the health benefits of increased physical activity. The project included the creation of educational safety programs, incentives that promote walking and biking to school for those students that live close enough to do so, and suggestions for those that do not on ways to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Weekly educational and informational tools, presented in the form of a newsletter, were provided to every elementary and middle school student on a regular basis. The newsletter was the tool used to inform LPS families of upcoming programs, aid in tying the programs together in a coherent manner, informed families as to the safe routes to school, educated students and parents as to best practices regarding walking and biking, promoted healthy lifestyles. Noninfrastructure funds also made available tools to help students make their walking and biking safer and more fun. Bicycle helmets were made available for students in need. Pedometers were made available for students to track their walking.
Lincoln can be proud of the fact that we boast numbers that more than double the national average of students in elementary and middle school that walk or bike to school. The CDC reports that the nationally 13% of elementary and middle school students walk or bike to school. Parent/Student surveys distributed over the past 12 months indicate that 31% of Lincoln Public School’s elementary and middle school students are walking and/or biking to school. This is something to be very proud of! We are.
Why walk or bike to school? The whole community benefits from efforts to enable and encourage more children to walk or bicycle to school safely. Benefits include:
• Less traffic congestion. According to the 2011 National Center for Safe Routes to School report, personal vehicles taking students to school accounted for 10 to 14 percent of all personal vehicle trips made during the morning peak commute times (based on National Household Travel Survey Data, 2009). Reducing the number of private vehicles commuting to school can reduce morning traffic around the school. Less traffic congestion also improves conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, creating a positive cycle—as the community sees more people walking and biking, more people feel comfortable walking and bicycling.
• Stronger sense of community. The common goal of improving conditions for walking and bicycling brings families, neighbors, school officials and community leaders together. The sense of community also builds as children and parents develop walking and bicycling buddies and chat with neighbors on the sidewalk or path.
• Safer streets. Communities with higher rates of walking and bicycling tend to have lower crash rates for all travel modes. One reason may be that motor-ists drive more cautiously when they expect to encounter walkers and bicyclists. More walkers and bicyclists can also improve personal security by providing more “eyes on the street.”
• Lower costs. Encouraging and enabling bicycle and pedestrian trips reduces costs for the family, community and school district. Families save on gas, communities spend less on building and maintaining roads and school districts spend less on busing. In fact, one school district calculated $237,000 in annual savings.
• Improved accessibility. Enabling students of all abilities to walk and bicycle to school makes it easier for everyone in the community to get around, including parents with strollers, senior citizens, residents without cars and residents with temporary or permanent mobility impairments.
• Economic gains. Sidewalks, paths and other investments in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure can increase home values and direct additional traffic to local businesses.
Learn more about Lincoln Walks to School at http://www.teachakidtofish.org