Vision 2020 group promotes biking, walking as students head to school

Published 10:18 am Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I.J. Holton student David Ide locks up his bike Tuesday morning after riding it to school. Eric Johnson/

I.J. Holton student David Ide locks up his bike Tuesday morning after riding it to school. Eric Johnson/

Under their own power

With school in session, students have several choices on how to get to school. With the International Walk to School Day coming up on Oct. 8, organizers from the Vision 2020 Bike/Walk Trail System Committee hope that more students will choose to walk or bike to school.

“We want to reach out to them and show them that there’s that option, and to be safe doing it as well,” Chairman Steve Kime said.

The committee has been working to get more students to bike or walk to school since their work with the Minnesota Department of Transportation started in the fall of 2013. The team had volunteers go to open houses at the schools, specifically Southgate Elementary and I.J. Holton Intermediate School, before the academic year began, to get information to parents about the option of walking or biking to school.

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“Everybody was real receptive to the idea,” said Kime, who attended the Southgate Elementary open house.

Volunteers hope to attend PTC meetings to get information out that way as well.

International Walk to School Day is the first of the Vision 2020 committee’s two biggest projects this year. The group is also distributing safe routes maps.

Volunteers presented parents with plans for the route maps, which are currently available for the school year. The maps show different routes students can take to walk or bike to school, with the safest areas and intersections for students to walk on.

Parents were also presented with information about International Walk to School Day, which could be held twice in Austin each school year.

Committee leaders are pleased to hear more parents talk about helping their children walk to school, and Kime said the open houses at the schools helped spread the message.

“That was, I think, huge in kind of getting the word out initially to them,” he said.

Kime recalled one boy who said he lived too far away to walk to school, but then thought his dad could drop him off close enough to the school that he would be able to walk.

Mower Refreshed Coordinator Sandy Anderson said dropping students off close to the school is an option for parents.

“Any type of walking is going to be better than nothing,” Anderson said.

She hopes to increase active living for students.

“Walking to school is one great way to do that,” Anderson said. “Walking to school does a lot for not just a person physically, but mentally, any type of activity can make you more mentally alert and aware.”

She added, “There’s that physical side and that link to the mental alertness to be ready to learn.”

Anderson pointed out that while walking to school is a healthy option, parents may have concern about their children’s safety.

“I think as a parent that’s obviously something that you’re going to be thinking about,” Anderson said.

She said there are many options for parents to keep their children safe. For example, parents can teach their children how to respond if a bad situation does happen. Safety in numbers is also a preventative measure, with students walking together in a group.

“If the parent is able to walk with the student to school, that’s a win-win, get more people in the family being active,” Anderson said.

Kime hopes parents will voice any concerns they have about safety.

“If there’s issues or concerns we want to hear them,” Kime said.

Yet Anderson hopes the initiative will reach beyond the students.

“It’s not just about increasing active living with kids; it’s for adults as well,” she said.

She also hopes adults will decide to walk or bike to work, instead of driving every day.

“That’s a powerful way for even us as adults to get prepared for the work day,” Anderson said.

Kime already observed many people using the trails close to Hormel Foods Corp. to get to work, which he was glad to see. He said even if people make the switch to walk or bike one or two days out of the week, it will make a difference.

“Whatever it is, it’s better than not doing it at all,” he said.

Kime said a big part of the project has turned to safety on the roads.

“The thing that came up at the initial meeting was safety,” he said. “That has kind of become a focus in addition to trails, safety wherever you are.”

He hopes to allow everyone using the roads to feel safe, including pedestrians, joggers, bikers and even drivers.

“I’m hoping that just by promoting that and encouraging people to participate, that we can just raise the awareness, and in some way change that behavior to really have people consider that as an option,” Kime said.