Safe Routes to School (SRTS ) is not simply a program to get students in Valley City to walk to school. It is to create an environment where citizens receive safe opportunities for more routine physical activity. Valley City received a SRTS grant to improve accessibility to sidewalks on a route from Mercy Hospital past the St. Catherine School and up to Jefferson School. The grant also provided for speed monitors to be put up at the schools.
SFTS promotes five ingredients: engineering improvements, education and encouragement programs, enhanced enforcement, and on-going evaluation to make physical improvements, as well as to change policies and practices to support more physically active travel.
• Evaluation. The first step is to learn what travel mode children are using to get to school, from where, and why. A survey was done at parent teacher conferences in Valley City with results available from ACHIEVE partners.
• Encouragement. The first Walk to School Day was held last fall. All the schools worked out a plan with their students, including bus students, to walk to school together. We hope that it got parents thinking about finding ways for their children to walk or bike to school. Maybe we can develop walking school buses and bicycle trains led by neighborhood parents, volunteers such as university students earning community service credits, or local retirees or service group members.
• Education. Training children in safe pedestrian and bicycling techniques is important. A key goal is changing parent perceptions and behavior. It would be exciting to work with parents to accept modified school bus routes to offer area or neighborhood stops, rather than stopping at each house or building. This provides a short walk at the beginning of the trip for students who are too far to walk to school
• Engineering. We are looking at a sidewalk plan in Valley City to fix sidewalks, create trail links from neighborhoods to schools, and improving visibility and safety at street crossings. How about creating a pick-up and drop-off location for cars, and even the school buses, that is slightly removed from the school so that even those children get a short walk each way?
• Enforcement. Keeping traffic at reasonable speeds in school zones is certainly important, but often it is parents themselves that create the greatest traffic congestion and hazards near schools. We need to develop a plan to reduce the number of cars at the schools.
There needs to be a holistic approach to get students physically active while keeping them safe. Valley City’s ACHIEVE committee (14 organizations partnering together) is working to change policies and promote a healthy environment for the citizens of Valley City.
If any readers are interested in helping make Valley City more walking/biking friendly please phone Sue at 845-0483.
This article is based on a dissertation entitled ”Community Design and Policies for Free-Range Children: Creating Environments That Support Routine Physical Activity”. by Mark Fenton, MS, Adjunct Associate Professor at Tufts University.
Sue Milender, LRD is the Nutrition Services Director at Valley City Public Schools, and represents the school on the ACHIEVE committee. Brad Sufficool is the physical education instructor at Jefferson School in Valley City.
Your Health is coordinated by Mercy Hospital.