By Donna Drewes, Sustainable Jersey and
Tara Shepherd, HART Commuter Information Services
Have you heard about the walking school bus? It’s a group of children walking to school with adults. A simple concept with a big goal–to find ways to make walking to school safer, more fun and more convenient.
“It’s just like the regular yellow school bus,” says John Stevenson, HART Safe Routes to School Coordinator. “The difference is that students are ‘picked up’ on foot and walk, rather than ride, to school.”
While we don’t know the exact number of New Jersey children that walk and bike to school, what we do know is that fewer children walk or bike to school than did so a generation ago. In 2001, less than 16 percent of students in the U.S. between the ages of 5 and 15 walked or biked to or from school. In 1969, 42 percent of students walked or biked to school.
This is an opportunity lost. Walking or biking to school incorporates physical activity into a child’s normal daily routine and provides a sense of responsibility and independence. It allows children to enjoy being outside; and provides a time to socialize with their parents and friends and to get to know their neighborhoods.
Walking and bicycling to school are also greener travel choices. When parents drive to drop off or pick up children, vehicles often idle outside of the school. An idling vehicle emits 20 times more pollution than one traveling at 30 miles per hour (NJDEP- stopthesoot.org).
HART Commuter Information Services is a non-profit corporation that is dedicated to promoting sustainable transportation in Hunterdon County by working with commuters, employers and communities. HART has worked on Safe Routes to School programming since 2003.
Eleven elementary and intermediate schools currently participate in the Hunterdon County Safe Routes to School Program, facilitated by HART. This represents approximately one third (34%) of all of eligible Hunterdon schools.
HART is a valuable Sustainable Jersey partner that has worked with several municipalities to document Safe Routes to School efforts to help them gain Sustainable Jersey points toward certification. This includes providing copies of School Travel plans and documenting bicycle and pedestrian events and educational presentations and programs. The towns include Califon, High Bridge, Flemington, Raritan and Frenchtown.
As part of its Sustainable Hunterdon initiative, HART offers ongoing assistance to Green Teams and other municipal committees in their efforts to receive certification under the Sustainable Jersey program. Many of the action items required for certification are activities that HART can provide direct support and assistance.
Sustainable Jersey municipalities throughout the state can also get support from their county Transportation Management Association Council of New Jersey. Besides technical assistance on Safe Routes to Schools, Transportation Management Associations (TMA) can assist by providing free programs that align with certification categories including transportation fairs, onsite bicycle and pedestrian safety programs for children and adults, anti-idling awareness campaigns and “Complete Streets” programs. To find the TMA that can help your community visit www.tmacouncilnj.org
If you are interested in finding out more about the walking school bus program visit the New Jersey Department of Transportation – Safe Routes to School Program.
Join Sustainable Jersey at the New Jersey League of Municipalities annual conference on Tuesday, November 15. Visit the Sustainable Jersey events page.
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Photos courtesy of HART Commuter Information Services
Sustainable Jersey staff and partners are regular contributors to the Dodge blog.