Safe routes for area students

AUSTIN, Minn. – As a way to get kids the exercise they need each day, one school district is looking to make changes in the way kids get to school.

The Safe Ride to School Workshop sponsored by the MnDOT takes place in Austin where city leaders are taking a walking audit to better address issues for biking and walking students.

40 years ago, 50 percent of students either biked or walked to school.

Today that number is less than 15 percent according to Mark Fenton, Safe Routes Consultant, and that has some leaders worried about the health and well-being of their young people.

“What we’re beginning to recognize is you have to build places where kids can get activity as a part of their daily life. Not just during gym or because of a sports program, but because they’re out playing like we used to do,” said Fenton.

As a consultant for the Safe Routes to School program, Mark helps school districts realize the potential within their communities to help make walking and biking more reasonable for young people.

“You need a comprehensive sidewalk network, you need neighborhood schools so the schools are close enough so that I could walk to it, you need to be safe along the routes, safe street crossings, traffic speeds have to be low enough,” said Fenton.

All suggestions that Jill Chamberlain with Blue Cross Blue Shield says can be done now to promote a healthier tomorrow.

“Every event that I’ve been to over the last six years, I hear the same thing from a parent saying, I have not done this since I was a kid. When we create a space when they have that opportunity to try it again and remember then those parents start thinking, I do want this for my kid,” said Chamberlain.

Today’s walking audit serves as a way for city leaders as far north as Red Wing to experience the changes that could be made to help improve transportation in their communities.

“Those are all things we know how to do and indeed the Safe Routes to School program helps us to organize our thinking, figure out where the most important problems are,” said Fenton.

“This isn’t something out of the ordinary and while it does take some time to get or change some of societal norms, it’s actually something we can start doing right now and that we have the ability to make it easier and safer for kids to walk or bike to school and have all those benefits,” said Chamberlain.

For information on the Safe Routes to School program in Iowa, visit the link below:

http://www.iowadot.gov/saferoutes/grants.html

For Minnesota, you can click on the link below:

http://www.dot.state.mn.us/saferoutes/index.html

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