Research shows that kids who get to school under their own power learn better than their peers who catch a ride. Results from the “Mass Experiment 2012,” a study of 20,000 Danish children ages 5-19, show, “Children who walk or cycle to school rather than being driven by their parents have an increased power of concentration and the effect of this ‘exercise’ lasts all morning.”
Leaders of Fort Collins’ Safe Routes to School program understand the connection between active transportation and academic success, and work hard to make sure all students have at least one safe, convenient route to school.
The Fort Collins program is supported by one part-time City employee and many community partners, such as Poudre School District, Bike Fort Collins, Safe Kids Larimer County and Poudre Valley Hospital Emergency Medical Services. All SRTS instructors are trained to promote walking and biking through the “Five Es:” Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement and Evaluation.
Education programs teach motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists about traffic rules and their responsibilities to model safe behavior. Encouragement includes building enthusiasm for walking and biking to school. Engineering tools include a variety of street and sidewalk designs that reduce traffic volumes and speeds while increasing safety. Enforcement enlists the help of local police to focus efforts in problem areas and increase awareness of school safety issues. And Evaluation compiles data from surveys and site audits to make sure our SRTS program addresses community needs and parents’ concerns.
If you have children in school, you may be familiar with the primary way SRTS reaches students—through bike and pedestrian safety training in P.E. classes. Other ways include bike helmet safety instruction, bike skills rodeos, walking school buses and bike trains, bike field trips, and informational presentations to parent/teacher groups and school wellness committees.
This school year, SRTS leaders will continue these activities, plus support more parent- and teacher-led activities such as after-school bike clubs. Laurel Elementary School and Lincoln Middle School both will receive such support. In fact, the program purchased 20 bikes for Lincoln’s P.E. program and after-school club and would like to help other schools’ clubs to the extent possible, too.
The Fort Collins Safe Routes to School education program reaches approximately 14,000 Poudre School District students each year, about half of the district’s total enrollment. The goal of the program is to get 50 percent of kids walking and biking to school regularly, which would double the 20 to 25 percent of students who do so now.
Funding for the SRTS program is as varied as its activities. Support comes from the Keep Fort Collins Great tax initiative, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), BNSF Railway Foundation, Poudre School District and other sources, including private donors.
Being a champion of active transportation myself, I’m glad to live in a City that places an emphasis on and supports the health and safety of its citizens through programs like Safe Routes to School. You can learn much more about this great program at www.fcgov.com/saferoutes.
Kim Sharpe is a Bicycle Ambassador (www.bicycleambassadorprogram.org) and a League of American Bicyclists certified instructor.