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BLUE ZONES: Area cities care about children: Safe Routes to School in Dodge County

January 26, 2019
Leslie Covell Hershberger

Walking and bicycling to school are great ways to get moving.

Actively moving to get to school is getting easier and safer in the cities of Beaver Dam, Horicon and Juneau. Blue Zones Project is working with local governments, police departments and schools to improve walking and bicycling safety around local school campuses through a program called Safe Routes to School.

Safe Routes to School is an international movement that promotes walking and biking to school. Its history stretches all the way back to the 1970s. The movement arrived in the United States in 1997. In 2005, the U.S. set aside funding to expand the program across all 50 states.

Within the span of one generation, the percentage of children walking or riding a bike to school has dropped from about 50 percent to less than 15 percent. Distance and safety conditions are the most commonly reported barriers, according to parent surveys in Horicon, Juneau and Beaver Dam. Private vehicles account for more than half of school trips that could easily be done on foot or by bicycle — distances of less than a half-mile.

There is nothing more important than the safety of children. Safe Routes to School projects focus on infrastructure improvements. Blue Zones Project is working with local communities to study streets and sidewalks, audit drop-off areas, and review parking, traffic, crosswalks and signage near schools. Parents and students are surveyed to understand how students are transported to school and to gain insight regarding barriers of walking and bicycling to school.

From this information, recommendations regarding the safest routes to and from school are made along with infrastructure improvements. Signs are installed to mark the designated routes and there is communication with the parents and students to let them know what the safe routes are for their school. Recommended neighborhood improvements are done as cities can fit projects into their budgets.

Safe Routes to School also focuses on the health of the students. With less natural movement, children are at higher risk of becoming overweight or obese.

The prevalence of obesity is so great that today’s children may be the first in decades to live less healthy and shorter lives than their parents. When students walk to school, they are more likely to get the recommended daily amount of exercise. Walking one mile to and from school can account for two-thirds of the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

Physical activity and fitness boost learning and memory in children. Sixth- and ninth-grade students with high fitness scored significantly better on math and social studies tests compared to less fit students, even after controlling for socioeconomic status.

When children get physical activity before class, they are less likely to be fidgety. This is true for boys and girls alike and is particularly beneficial for those with attention deficit disorder.

Find out if your school is participating in Safe Routes to School. For more information, visit wisconsindot.gov.

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