Programs encourage walking

Published 5:35 pm Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Vision 2020 Bike-Walk Trails committee completed the Mn DOT Safe Routes to Schools planning process for six Austin schools this summer. Implementation of education programs as well as safety infrastructure will begin this fall.

Why focus on encouraging students to bike or walk to school?

In 1969, 48 percent of children usually walked or bicycled to school. In 2009, 13 percent of children usually walked or bicycled to school. Childhood obesity is on the rise with about 17 percent of U.S. children suffering from obesity (2011). Vehicles carrying children to and from school can contribute to up to 25 percent of traffic during commute times. Air quality around schools suffers from fumes from idling vehicles.

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Safe Routes to Schools is a national program which has identified barriers that prevent students from walking and biking to school. Research shows barriers to biking and walking include concerns about traffic safety, keeping students safe from crime and school policies that prohibit or discourage biking.

When families are able to overcome these barriers, there are benefits to biking or walking to school: increased physical activity levels for students, improved air quality around schools and better academic focus once students arrive at school.

In addition, walking and bicycling to and from school can contribute towards the development of a lifelong habit and community-wide norm of incorporating physical activity into daily routines. Children who walk to school are more physically active overall than those who travel to school by car, although the journey to school itself contributed relatively little. Students at any income or skill level can walk to school with no special equipment.

In Austin, we will begin to establish a culture of walking and biking by celebrating International Bike Walk to School Day on Wednesday, Oct. 8. To find out more about hosting Bike Walk to School or Work at your organization, please contact me at You can also learn much more about the research behind Safe Routes to Schools at