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Virginia Launches Safe Routes to School Program
Detail: Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced Virginia's Safe Routes to School program this week. This is part of a national Safe Routes program that provides $612 million in federal transportation funds for similar projects nationwide. Jakob Helmboldt is in charge of Virginia's grant program, which encourages localities to find ways for children in kindergarten through 8th grade to safely bike or walk to class. The program will be funded by $13.3 million in federal money through 2009 and administered by the state transportation department. An important component of the grant program is to encourage healthy lifestyles at a young age by promoting walking or biking. Obesity has tripled over the last 30 years among children 6 and older, putting more people at risk for obesity-related health problems.

Though no school divisions have outright bans on biking and walking, some schools are wary and assume they have an increased liability risk if more children walk. Parents also have the misconception that it's safer to drive their child to school. According to Helmboldt over 50 percent of all students arrive to school in private vehicles, including older students driving themselves, as well as a huge number of students dropped off by parents. He further added that up to 25 percent of morning traffic congestion is attributed to school dropoff.

A key supporter of the Safe Routes to School movement, in Virginia, is the Alliance for Community Choice in Transportation, a Charlottesville group that promotes public transit and sustainable land-use policies. Some of the group's initiatives include helping schools promote bicycle and pedestrian programs. ACCT suggests that parents walk with their children to school, and also tries to arrange "walking school buses" where a parents take turns "picking up" children and walk them to school.
Source: Based on a story by Zinie Chen Sampson, The Associated Press, September 21, 2006
Date: September 25 2006