Bicycle and pedestrian paths near schools in Idaho will be more crowded than usual next week as children, parents, school officials and civic leaders participate in the annual International Walk to School Day.
More than 30 schools throughout Idaho are planning activities Wednesday (Oct. 3) as part of an international effort that will include about 5,000 schools in all 50 states and events in 40 countries.
The international focus is to create safer routes for children who walk and bicycle to school and to encourage more children to choose non-motorized commutes. Events emphasize the many benefits of walking or bicycling: increased physical activity and better health among children, reduced traffic congestion near schools, reduction in air pollution, and increased connections among children, families, school neighbors and communities.
Idaho’s Safe Routes to School (SR2S) program embraces the annual school walk/bike concept and incorporates it as a pillar in the new statewide program, explains Safe Routes to School coordinator Josephine O’Connor of the Idaho Transportation Department.
She encouraged all of the schools and communities that received grants during this – the first year of the Safe Routes to School program – to participate in the alternative school commute.
SR2S is a federally funded program, administered by ITD, that provides reimbursements to schools, cities and highway districts for programs that improve walking/bicycling routes and educational programs to encourage students to forego motorized travel to school.
“Childhood obesity rates are rising rapidly, while physical education classes are being cut out due to budget constraints,” explains Congressman James Oberstar (D-Minnesota), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
“We must find a way to help promote healthy living habits at an early age, and this program has the potential to reverse the sedentary lifestyle that is all too common today. Small changes like adult supervision at intersections, better training of school patrollers and improved sidewalks or bike paths are enough to encourage parents to let their kids walk or bike to school instead of sitting on a bus or riding in a car.
“This program (Safe Routes to School) has the potential to improve the health and well-being of an entire generation of school children.”
His comments echo those of Idaho First Lady Lori Otter, who helped inaugurate Idaho’s Safe Routes to School program in June.
Otter, a former physical education and health teacher, emphasized the need for children to adopt a more active lifestyle, including bicycling and walking to school.
“When routes are safe, walking or biking to and from school is an easy way to get the regular physical activity kids need for good health,” the First Lady said. “Idaho’s children will benefit greatly from this program.”
Wednesday’s events in Idaho range from bicycle safety lessons and a bike rodeo in American Falls, walking and biking “school” buses and appearances by Boise State University football players in Boise, to a community-wide effort in Carey, a “neighborhood” walk in Hailey and a sidewalk ribbon-cutting ceremony that includes the Rotary Club in Sandpoint.
See list of participating schools