Communities around schools suffer from traffic congestion and the stress that comes with it. Neighborhood environments suffer from toxins released by cars polluting the air we breath. Children are becoming less active and more overweight.
Safe Routes Minnesota takes a holistic approach to all these problems, creating a positive effect on neighborhood and school communities through a simple solution: helping children walk and bike to school via safe routes. When this happens, neighborhoods reap the benefits instantly – children, parents, neighbors, plants, animals and the air all become healthier and happier.
It's up to you – however you get involved with Safe Routes Minnesota, your actions with have a positive ripple effect.
Safe Routes Minnesota provides funding to community and school groups to make improvements to the routes your children use to walk and bike to school. These improvements may include physical infrastructure changes or non-infrastructure programs.
- Traffic-calming devices ("Your Speed" monitors, child alert signs)
- Biking/Walking trails
- New sidewalks
- Additional crosswalks and traffic signals
- Incentive programs that rewards kids for walking/biking
- Educational materials to teach kids safety techniques
- Public education about driving safely around schools
How it works
- Community and school groups work together to assess the safety of existing routes to school and the potential new safe routes.
- The group writes a proposal for improvements and a plan for developing a comprehensive Safe Routes program in the community.
- If the proposal is approved, Safe Routes Minnesota reimburses the group for the expenses incurred in making the improvements.
- In the end, children travel a safer path to school... and a healthier path into adulthood.
One key factor in keeping kids safe as they walk and bike to school is teaching them the necessary safety skills. As a parent, you have the most influence on how your children behave on their way to school. Here are some safety guidelines every parent should know:
- Children under 10 years of age should not be crossing streets without adult supervision.
- If your kids will be walking to school on their own, go with them the first few times. This way, you can identify dangers, point them out to your children, and direct your children to the safest possible route.
- When it comes to crossing streets, children need to be aware of all the different ways cars can cross their path. Explain the rules of the road and give them real-life examples while you're out walking together.
- Explain how traffic signals work. Make sure your children know how important it is to cross streets at the appropriate times in the appropriate places.
- If your kids are biking, make sure their bikes are the appropriate size and have fully operational brakes, chains, and reflectors.
- A child should have a certified bike helmet and know how to wear it properly.
- If your kids are old enough to ride their bikes with traffic, teach them hand signals. Keep in mind that kids younger than 10 years old should always ride on the sidewalks.
- Tell your kids how to deal with strangers and safe places to go if they need help on their route to school.
- Walk and bike with your child often. Remember, they'll follow the example that you set for them. Show them that physical activity is an important (and fun) part of life. You'll also be showing them how to walk and bike safely!
Become part of an existing group
Your neighborhood association or neighborhood watch group might be a good place to find concerned parents like yourself and piggyback on the group's existing meeting schedule to spread the word.
If you can put Safe Routes to School concerns on their agenda, you'll be likely to find helpful allies who want to make the same changes you do. If there are no such groups in your neighborhood, start talking to other parents who share your interest in developing safe routes for your children – perhaps your combined skills, attitudes and talents will form a group of its own!
Form your own Safe Routes group
There's more than one way to create a group around Safe Routes to School:
- Create an outreach committee - Collect input from parents, teachers and students, and publicize the program to the school and community.
- Education and encouragement activities committee - Work closely with school administration and teachers to put education and encouragement activities in place, gather materials for activities and solicit donations for programming and prizes.
- Enforcement and engineering committee - Develop recommendations for enforcement and engineering solutions. Work closely with local government and other resources to find funding and make improvements.
- Traffic safety committee - Identify unsafe drivers' behavior and develop an education campaign to increase awareness.
Visit the national Safe Routes to School site for more ways to increase awareness.
Get your school on board
Schools are in a prime position to apply for funds to implement comprehensive Safe Routes to School programs.
Inform you child's principal, PTA, or school board about the opportunities that Safe Routes Minnesota presents. Remind them that children who start their day actively generally have longer attention spans, more enthusiasm, and test higher on standardized tests.
- Discuss a walking/biking incentive program with teachers, where children are rewarded for being active on a daily basis.
- Ask teachers to send letters home to other parents, informing them about the importance of walking and biking for their children.
- Send teachers to this web site! Our Educators section has plenty of information that will help them implement Safe Routes changes in their schools.
Letter to the Editor
If you're really passionate about your safe routes to school program and finding ways to rally the community to the cause, we can help you write letters to the editor of your local paper. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for letter ideas to educate neighbors, friends and community publications.