School Zones Have Become DANGER Zones



    TORONTO, Oct. 1 /CNW/ - Remember those good old days - walking 5 km to
school - uphill both ways?
    Many of today's children are driven to school by overly anxious parents
for very short trips, even just a block or two. Some parents are even getting
fined for 'street racing' as they rush to drop off their little ones. Here is
a reality check: school zones have become one of the most dangerous places in
our communities! Families that would like to walk opt to take the car because
they don't want to become another pedestrian statistic. And for those families
where driving is not an option, they are left walking on streets less than
ideal from a safety perspective.
    October provides a unique opportunity for schools and families to leave
the car at home and give walking a try - it is International Walk to School
(IWALK) Month and has participation from schools in almost 40 countries. This
annual mass celebration of active transportation highlights the need to
increase daily physical activity, improve the safety of our communities,
reduce traffic congestion around schools, improve air quality, reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, and create communities where people choose to walk.
    In Ontario, International Walk to School (IWALK) Month is promoted by
Green Communities Canada's Active and Safe Routes to School program since
1996. Schools can register online (www.saferoutestoschool.ca) to receive
promotional materials to encourage students to make walking to school fun!

    Background information

    The 'school run' accounts for 25-30% of morning rush hour trips,
depending on whether you live in an urban, suburban or rural area.
Retrofitting our school communities for active transportation could have
significant impacts of reducing very short trips.
    Many families will argue that the choice of walking to school is not
realistic due to their busy lifestyles. Or they will say that it's too cold,
too hot, too wet, too far, too dangerous, or it takes too long, but do they
even consider the mobility needs and aspirations of their children? Do they
consider the impacts to their children of being chauffered everywhere? Many
children prefer to walk to school, and even if at first they are hesitant,
after a few trips they usually really like it. When asked about their choice
of transportation in surveys more than 70% of children prefer to walk or cycle
to school but they can't because their parents won't accompany them or let
them go with friends.
    But it's not all the fault of today's parents. Municipalities and school
boards are not considering the unique mobility needs of children either. Many
would rather invest vast amounts of money to create "kiss 'n ride" areas to
accommodate driving parents, thereby encouraging them to drive, rather than
invest that same money into infrastructure for active transportation. A recent
study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Unites States
has reported that the health, environmental and economic benefits of
retrofitting school communities for active travel are enormous, far
outweighing the continued accommodation of motor vehicles for school travel
(www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2008/jul/pdf/07_0087.pdf).
    The benefits of walking to school, even just one or two days a week, far
outweigh the perceived convenience of driving. It is great physical activity
for the entire family, providing opportunities to learn about your
neighbourhood and teach children important street safety skills. Walking to
school identifies where other families live and over time friendships develop
while walking to school together. This can lead to parent or senior
student-led walking school buses along designated walking routes.
    Walking to school may seem like a small contribution to a better quality
of life but if many families start doing it then it will add up to a
significant contribution. And as more families insist on walking to school,
local municipalities and school boards will need to work together to ensure
the routes to school are designed or retrofitted with children's mobility in
mind.
    This October get out of your car, put on your comfortable shoes and walk
to school.





For further information:

For further information: Rose Bergeron, Green Communities, Canada
1-877-533-4098, (705) 745-7479, www.saferoutestoschool.ca

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