|New York's first Bike-to-School-Day Celebration in 2010, credit: Elizabeth Press|
Nationally only 13 percent of children walk or bike to school, which is significantly lower than the nearly 70 percent about 30 years ago. However, although the figures in New York City have declined, they have fared better than most cities across the U.S. For instance, 9 out of 10 Bronx children walk to school. Yet, sedentary lifestyles featuring video games and television have replaced physical activity for some children.
Not only does walking or biking to school provide children with an opportunity to get exercise, it also improves their concentration at school, according to a Danish study.
Niels Egelund, who conducted the research, said, “I believe deep down that we were naturally and originally not designed to sit still. We learn through our head and by moving. Something happens within the body when we move, and this allows us to be better equipped afterwards to work on the cognitive side.”
|New York City school children running across intersection during Walk to School Day, credit Mike Yoder|
New York City has numerous programs in place to facilitate walking and biking to school for children including: Safe Routes to Schools, International Walk to School Month, and NYC’s DOT Safety Education program.
Safe Routes to Schools
The NYC DOT targeted schools adjacent to the highest crash rates and developed an initial list of 135 priority schools to undergo traffic safety enhancements. These measures included: new traffic and pedestrian signals, exclusive pedestrian crossing time, speed bumps, and high visibility sidewalks.
International Walk to School Month
This is an international program, which aims to promote walking to school as healthy exercise for children. The program occurs the entire month of October and students, teachers, and parents celebrate the benefits of walking. The intent is that the more students that walk, the safer the community. In 2012, NYC held a competition and awarded cash prizes to the schools that had the most blocks walked.
Safety Education Program
Established by the NYC DOT, this program teaches traffic safety to children, parents, teachers, seniors, and any New Yorker interested. The NYC DOT regularly visits schools to instruct children on safety education.
While these programs help increase the number of children walking to school and translate to improved concentration at school, the perception of walking has to change. Parents need to allow their children the ability to walk or bike to school and to stop being ultra-protective. It can be a dangerous world, but I contend that when children walk to school they grow and are more readily able to assess risk, develop real life skills, and ultimately establish a foundation for a healthy life.
Thank you to Ben Chaney for editing this post.
Safe Routes to Schools: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/pedestrians/saferoutes.shtml
The Link Between Kids Who Walk to School or Bike and Concentration: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/02/kids-who-walk-or-bike-school-concentrate-better-study-shows/4585/
Improvements Make Walking, Biking to School Safer for NYC Students: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rulesforengagement/2013/01/walking_biking_to_school_safer_for_nyc_students.html
What’s Lost When Kids Don’t Ride Bikes to School: http://www.npr.org/2012/05/02/151867390/whats-lost-when-kids-dont-ride-bikes-to-school