By Bev Brody
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.
During the 2013-14 school year, 2,730 students, 743 parents and teachers totaling 3,473 people from five schools walked or biked to school. During the 2014-15 school year, 4,209 students, 1,144 parents and teachers totaling 5,353 people from six schools walked or biked to school. That is an average of about 800 people per school walking or biking to school.
Get Fit Kaua‘i is very grateful to the established partnerships and to have an effective program. Many thanks to the Mayor’s Office, Lee Steinmetz from the county Planning Department, Michael Moule and Lyle Tabata from the county Department of Public Works, the state Department of Transportation, Kaua‘i Police Department (you rock), several PTSA groups, and especially Kaua‘i’s Complex Area Superintendent for the state Department of Education, Bill Arakaki. His complete support has been instrumental in the success of this program.
Visit www.getfitkauai.com for more information on SRT and Walk to School Days.
- Bev Brody is the director of Get Fit Kaua‘i, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.