Now that school is back in session, it’s a good time to look at trends in how students are getting to and from school and the part each of us plays in keeping them safe.
A new study published by the National Center for Safe Routes to School reveals significant progress in the national campaign to get more kids biking and walking to school. Published in March, the study is based on 605,000 parent surveys collected at nearly 5,300 schools (including schools in Fort Collins) from 2007 through 2013.
The NCSRTS surveys collect data about the travel behavior of K-8 students and their parents’ perceptions and attitudes relating to biking and walking to school, including how safe (or unsafe) conditions are for biking and walking, how enjoyable and healthy they consider biking and walking to be for their children, and how much their school supports biking and walking.
Key findings of the national study include:
• Walking and biking to school increased from 14 percent to 17 percent between 2007 and 2013.
• During the same period, the number of students who traveled to and from school in cars also increased, from 46 percent to 51 percent.
• Boys were just as likely as girls to walk to school but twice as likely to ride a bicycle than girls (across all ages).
• Walking increased especially among students who attended low-income schools (defined as enrolling 75 percent of students who were eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals).
• Within one mile of school, busing decreased significantly from 2007 through 2013. Busing decreased from 20 percent to 13 percent, while walking increased from 26 percent to 32 percent.
Looking more locally, NCSRTS mode-of-travel tallies conducted at six Fort Collins elementary schools (2,500 students) in spring 2013, indicated that 23 percent biked or walked, 21 percent rode the school bus and 53 percent arrived by car. Indeed Fort Collins appears to be above the national average when it comes to numbers of children biking and walking to school, though we’re right in line with the national average in terms of children being driven to school in cars.
So what does all of this mean in terms of safety? With so many local children riding bikes or walking to school, it is imperative that motorists drive cautiously and watch for children using our streets, particularly at intersections and in school areas. Keep in mind that motor vehicles present the biggest hazard for children traveling to and from school regardless of whether they are biking, walking, taking the school bus or being driven in a car.
So let’s all pay greater attention to our driving behavior now that school is back in session — to protect local children and help keep all roadway users safe.
Nancy Nichols is the Safe Routes to School coordinator for the City of Fort Collins. To view the national report, “Trends in Walking and Bicycling to School from 2007 to 2013,” visit www.saferoutesinfo.org.