More than 4,000 schools across the nation were registered for the annual Walk to School Day on Oct. 5. Only three of these schools were located in Dallas (Wallace Elementary, Parkhill Junior High and Brentfield Elementary). The number of students walking or riding their bikes to school is declining every year.
According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, in 1969, 48 percent of children (aged 5-14 years old) walked or biked to school, as compared in 2009, to only 13 percent. What’s causing the decline? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed parents nationwide to find out the most common barriers to walking their children to school daily. The top three reasons were: 1. distance to school, 2. traffic-related danger and 3. weather.
In recent years, new schools are often built on the edges of cities where property values are cheaper, forcing students to commute farther. In 1969, 41 percent of children (grades K-8) lived within one mile of school, while in 2009, that percentage declined to 31 percent. Of these percentages that live within a mile of school, in 1969, 89 percent walked or rode their bike and in 2009, only 35 percent of children did. It’s clear, there’s more than distance that determines our reluctance to walk. Perhaps it’s our societal changes, easy access to vehicles and fuel, and cultural lifestyles.
This month, several schools and nonprofits are working to shift the societal pressures. Instead of sitting in long lines, spewing pollution in our idling cars (it’s better to turn your car off if idling over 10 seconds), nonprofits are highlighting the benefits of walking or riding a bike to class. A survey from the U.K. Department for Transport found that nine out of ten teachers said their students are more ready to learn if they’ve walked to school. Studies have shown walking itself can decrease stress, and a little nature in the form of a city park, trees or green space can make that same walk improve mental health.
If you missed Walk to School Day, no worries, October is Walk to School Month! Walking to school also increases your daily physical activity — something both children and adults in the U.S. need to step up. The average American adult sits for 13 hours per day, while the average American student sits for 4.5 hours per day in school — and that’s not counting what they do when at home. Being active breeds a healthier lifestyle, including eating nutritious food. Start a group at your school and schedule adult chaperones to trade off days walking neighborhood kids to and from school. Getting others involved will make it easier on every parent and spread health throughout your community.
Walking to school also promotes economic gains in your community. Political decisions are often made to provide safer routes for bikes and pedestrians, which in turn increases property values. Think of the very popular Katy Trail in Dallas, and the growth sparked from the urban commuter path. Most areas don’t have access to the Katy Trail, but they do have sidewalks that work just as well to get started. Hopefully with the continued progress on the connection to Mockingbird Station, soon more Dallasites will utilize walking and biking trails for commuting to school or work.
Dallas may be a bit behind on our walk and bike paths, but Fort Worth seems to be blossoming. Bicycling Magazine recently named Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price the “Most Bike-Crazy Mayor” for her tenacity to promote bike riding through a variety of ways, such as growing a bike share program in downtown and hosting weekly casual meet-the-residents bike rides. I wonder when Dallas is getting our new “Bike Czar” that will stay longer than the last?
The weather is perfect to get outside and breathe fresh air before and after school or work. But don’t let a rainy or cold day stop you. Dress for the weather and enjoy the daily opportunity to improve you and your children’s mental health, the environment and the community.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.