District 63 breaks down barriers to walking, biking to school
Updated: April 16, 2012 1:42AM
East Maine School District 63 is creating a plan to make walking and bicycling safe, convenient and fun for students.
The district has partnered with nonprofit advocacy organization Active Transportation Alliance to address the barriers students face in traveling to school and to identify solutions.
“It’s not just about building safe roads,” said Heather Schady, of Active Trans, in a Feb. 1 presentation to the Board of Education.
Teaching children about alternative modes of transportation and getting them active is also important, she said.
Active Trans provides technical assistance to schools to create policies that enable and encourage active transportation. Its activities target children who live within a half-mile radius to their school.
Forty-one Cook County communities, districts and schools now participate in its Safe Routes to School program, Schady said, including the district’s Apollo School in Des Plaines.
Schady said transportation is now an issue of public health because of skyrocketing child-obesity rates.
In the 1960s about 40 percent of children walked or biked to school, Schady said.
A recent survey conducted by Active Trans found that more than three-fourths of District 63 students travel to school by car or bus.
Fifteen percent of children reported walking while a mere 1 percent said they ride their bikes.
The Active Trans survey also revealed that parents worry about the weather, safety of intersections, violence and crime, and travel distance when it comes to their children’s commute.
Board member Tom Simmons said: “The challenge of this is to have the parents on board.”
“There was still one parent at home in the ’60s,” he said.
Now that it’s common for both parents to work, safety is more of an issue, Simmons said.
Community education played a big role in Apollo School’s success last year.
Apollo School received $167,000 in infrastructure grants from the Illinois Department of Transportation to fund its Safe Routes to School program, which included $141,380 for the construction and repair of sidewalks, particularly those along Dee Road.
The school worked with Active Trans last school year to create and implement a travel plan that also included installing bike parking and improving signage near the school, such as school zone and speed limit signs.
The key, though, was to educate students and parents about the benefits of active transportation.
Schady said their efforts paid off when about 300 out of 540 students participated in “Walk to School Wednesdays” the past spring.
District project coordinator Emily Rooney said the event became a “walking school bus,” as youngsters joined in at different points along the route and were accompanied by adults.
“That’s the kind of alliance we’re trying to start,” she said.
Rooney said a steering committee is prioritizing district-wide travel strategies this month and that the Board of Education is expected vote to adopt a travel plan in the spring.