Student walking program hoping to re-orient communities away from the car

Student walking program hoping to re-orient communities away from the car

A Canadian environmentalist organization that promotes increased activity for school children is hoping that the federal government will follow the lead of the UK, Australia and New Zealand and fund the re-design of infrastructure to encourage kids to walk or ride to school.

The organization, Active and Safe Routes to School, has begun a pilot project – “School Travel Planning” - to examine the feasibility of instituting a program that aims at increasing walking and reducing car usage.

The project, says Jacky Kennedy, Program Director for Active and Safe Routes to School for Green Communities, will look at three provinces (BC and Ontario with a third yet to be decided). The research will track transportation habits amongst children in the selected provinces as well document community infrastructure around individual schools.

She hopes the research, which is expected by spring 2007, will convince the federal government to follow the lead of the UK (who have mandated a “School Travel” plan to be finished by 2010) and sponsor a school walking program.

“The problem with modern society is that we’ve created communities for the car,” says Kennedy. “And kids now have no idea how to negotiate streets. Cars create a lot of pollution and Canada is among the highest in asthma rates in the developed world. We do all this yet we all want to have healthy children!”

Kennedy says that school walking programs go beyond merely changing the habits of kids. They also change the community in multiple positive ways.

Increased physical activity will help curb recent alarming increases in obesity amongst Canadian children, and reduced car usage will lower harmful carbon dioxide emissions. Lastly, the community will be re-shaped.

“This can improve community cohesion and safety,” says Kennedy. The cost to re-design current infrastructure to increase pedestrian use is minimal compared to that of building new roads or repairing old ones, she says.

Canada lags behind Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and the U.S. in sponsoring walking programs. In August 2005, the federal US government earmarked $612 million to student walking programs, which was part of its “Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users.”