“Safe Routes to School” Gains Traction

Categories: Community Engagement

Students living within one mile of a Monadnock Region school are not serviced by a school bus and need to find an alternate way to school, preferably by walking or bikingl.

But the majority of these students are driven to school by their parents because of fear of traffic and personal safety for their children. By not walking to school students not only miss an opportunity to exercise each day, but the resulting extra traffic leads to more dangerous situations for the students who do walk or bike, and poorer air quality around school campuses because of the increase in traffic.

A solution to this problem has been to implement a “Safe Routes to School” program in area schools. The Southwest Region Planning Commission — a Healthy Monadnock partner that has received funds from CDC’s Partnerships to Improve Community Health initiative — has created Safe Routes to School implementation plans for 10 area schools.

These schools include four Keene schools (Symonds, Fuller, Wheelock, Keene Middle School), plus Marlborough School, Troy Elementary, Cutler, Hinsdale Elementary, Hinsdale Middle and Hinsdale High School. Three more schools are scheduled to receive Safe Routes to School plans in the upcoming year.

Safe Routes to School plans include detailed data such as traffic patterns to and from schools, tally of how children are getting to school, and parents’ surveys of concerns about walking/biking to school. Once the data is collected SWRPC works with the school to create a plan that meets their needs.

Plans Making a Difference

Each of the 10 schools that received a Safe Routes to School plan had its own customized solution to its unique situation. For example, some schools, such as Troy Elementary School, found that 70 percent of its students lived within one mile from the school; a “walking school bus,” was organized where parents and other adults walk with children to the school campus.

Other schools, such as the Keene Middle School, had to come up with other solutions since the majority of the students live two miles or more away; in that case, a “drop off” point was established for parents (or a school bus) to drop off kids, where adults would meet students to walk 10-15 minutes to school.

And these plans are making a difference.

For example, Keene-based Symonds Elementary School found significant trends after implementing its Safe Routes to School program, which it calls “Walk, Roll and Ride”:

  • Walking to school increased from 11 to 26 percent from 2011 to 2015.
  • Biking increased from 2 percent to 5 percent during that same time.
  • Parents driving kids to school dropped during that time period from 55 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2015.

Safe Routes to School has gotten many schools coming up with creative solutions to problems, noted Brunner. For example, Troy Elementary School is looking into the possibility of using a Rail Trail tunnel to get schoolchildren safely across busy Route 12; the school is looking to make improvements to the tunnel and ensuring there is adult supervision in the tunnel when children are walking, noted Brunner.

Even if a school doesn’t have a Safe Routes to School program, parents should make the effort to walk their children (or organize a group of neighborhood children) to school if they live within walking distance for the exercise and quality time.

Heidi Rinehart, a parent of a child at Fuller School in Keene told us: “We walked our daughter to and from (school) many days. It only took about 8-10 minutes and it gave us an opportunity to play games with math or spelling drills, notice the seasons changing (watch the leaves fall or smell the lilacs), and hear about her day while she de-stressed with fresh air and exercise. Sometimes we even walked with our neighbors and their kids. Walking to school was really great for our family.”

For more information visit the Partnership for Safe Routes to Schools website.