By Bev Brody

A crosswalk sign is seen here by Kapa‘a High School.

A crosswalk sign is seen here by Kapa‘a High and Elementary schools.

Many communities on Kaua‘i struggle with traffic, environments damaged by vehicle emissions and children becoming inactive and overweight. At first, the answer to these concerns seems to come from separate sources, but the Safe Routes to School program can address these issues simultaneously.

SRTS programs are sustained efforts led by a school and/or community with a common goal; to create and foster fun, safe and inviting ways for kids to walk and bike to school.

Today, more than ever, there is a need to provide options for children to walk and bike to school.

Not long ago, children routinely moved around their neighborhoods freely by bike or on foot. That was how they traveled to and from school often. Now, fewer children walk and bike to school than they did 30 years ago. According to the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2010, in 1969, 48 percent of children walked and biked to school, and in 2009, only 11 percent did the same.

Many factors contributed to this reduction. According to travel evaluations conducted at all elementary schools on Kaua‘i, distance is the primary barrier followed by speed and volume of traffic. Due to these and other factors, opportunities to walk and bike to school have suffered, and parents begin driving their children to school, adding even more traffic to the road. Parents driving their children to school can account for 20 to 25 percent of morning traffic. The consequences are staggering.

The percentage of severely overweight children between the ages of six and 10 has tripled in the last 30 years! Inactivity and poor eating habits are major contributors to increased rates of childhood obesity in the United States. Today’s children may be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

The benefits of SRTS programs are countless. Walking and biking to and from school can contribute lifelong habits of incorporating physical activity into daily routines. Students who walk a mile to and from school get two-thirds of recommended levels of daily physical activity. Children who walk to school are more physically active throughout the day. Physically active children tend to have better academic achievement, higher self-esteem, enhanced concentration and better classroom behavior.

Get Fit Kaua‘i’s SRTS program is based on the five Es: Evaluation, Education, Enforcement, Engineer and Encouragement.

  • Evaluation: Travel evaluations are completed once a year at all elementary schools. This provides excellent data on reasons why parents choose to allow or not allow their children to walk to school. Among other things, these evaluations help us identify the barriers to walking and biking to school.
  • Education: Kaua‘i Path has been instrumental in teaching bicycle education curriculum developed by the League of American Bicyclists and the SRTS Traffic Safety Program to many elementary school children.
  • Enforcement: Kaua‘i depends greatly on the Kaua‘i Police Department for their involvement in the SRTS program. During one Walk to School Day, outside Kapa‘a Elementary School, KPD officers wrote 24 tickets for the following offences during a four-hour period: 14 speeding, four seatbelts, two delinquent tags, two driver’s license absent, one permit violation and one fraudulent use of plates.
  • Engineering: Many infrastructure changes are happening around schools. The county’s Planning and Public Works departments are working hard to ensure environments around schools are safe to walk and bike.
  • Encouragement: Walk to School Days have grown in popularity. Kilauea, St. Catherine’s, Kalaheo, Koloa, King Kaumuali‘i and Kapa‘a Elementary schools host Walk to School Days once a month.