Congress initiated the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) national partnership in 2005 to help make walking and biking to school safer for students and educators. As Ozzie Zehner writes on Grist, SRTS has been a “resounding success” in making streets safer, promoting physical activity for kids and their families, improving health and making communities livable and sustainable. Over 12 percent of pedestrian fatalities involve children; over a quarter million children end up in the emergency room due to bicycle-related injuries.
(As the mother of a teenage son who loves to ride his bike — yes, he always wears his helmet and keeps his eye on traffic! – I know more than I’d like to about ER visits after bicycle, boy and pavement collide.)
Said SRTS director Deb Hubsmith in testimony to Congress:
In only two years, we documented a 64 percent increase in the number of children walking, a 114 percent increase in the number of students biking, a 91 percent increase in the number of students carpooling, and a 39 percent decrease in the number of children arriving by private car carrying only one student.
SRTS has also sought to work with the EPA on voluntary guidelines for siting schools. In 1969, 41% of children lived within a mile of school; in 2009, that number decreased to 31%. Locating schools in sites that ensure safe routes for kids to walk and bike has positive benefits for both their health and for the environment.
Zehner, the author of “Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism,” notes that for all the clear benefits of walking and biking for kids (and one-third of those in the US are obese), SRTS receives but 0.2% of the US Transportation Department’s budget. But even that tiny amount of funding is endangered:
The Senate transportation bill, currently in a conference committee, would relegate SRTS funds to a shared pot called “additional activities.” Depending on the compromise bill’s final language, states may be allowed to shift bike and pedestrian funds to road construction or other priorities. House Republicans would prefer to go one step further, eliminating bike and pedestrian funding altogether.
As a study (PDF) by researchers from Rutgers University and the European Commission cited by Zehner details, it is more dangerous to walk or ride a bike in the US than to ride in a car and much more so than in other countries:
Per kilometer and per trip walked, American pedestrians areroughly 3 times more likely to get killed than German pedestrians and over 6 times more likely than Dutch pedestrians. Per kilometer and per trip cycled, American bicyclists are twice as likely to get killed as German cyclists and over 3 times as likely as Dutch cyclists.
This is the case in no small part because the US lacks facilities such as bike paths for cyclists; because roadways and urban areas are not designed with anyone but motorists in mind; because, in most places in the US, the car (and its driver) remain king.
Small wonder that a principal in Walker, Michigan, suspended a group of students for biking to school or that, a few days ago, a woman rolled down the window of her car to call my son a “stupid a**hole” as he and my husband were on their daily 12-mile ride here in New Jersey.
Sign the petition and tell Congress not to backpedal on a progressive program for biking and walking routes!
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Photo by Takver