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Why Safe Routes to Schools Matter in Northern Michigan

Kids learning to move and being physically active as part of ordinary life — like walking or biking to school — and then inspiring their parents, teachers, principals, neighbors to do the same is a powerful means to achieve sustainable community health.

Independent, happy, confident, ready to learn young people are empowered to be guardians of their health, develop lifelong habits to move more, sit less and be leaders in their neighborhood.
What steps can we take to get kids off the couch, off their screen and outside? How can we reduce chronic disease, childhood obesity, insane car lines at schools, traffic congestion, air pollution, depression, and social isolation? Exercise, organized sports and recreation are great but I believe that embedding walking and biking into our daily routine is a significant part of the answer.

Where are the kids? The kids are at school. Let’s start there.

Let’s make it a priority to value kids actively getting themselves to school and provide them with safe routes so they can arrive to school and back home safely. Let’s encourage school policies and programs that support active transportation to school.

Let’s be that region where happy, healthy, ready-to-learn kids of all abilities can safely walk and bike to school.

Why? Because the benefits of walking and biking to school are many and go beyond just exercise: better concentration in class, improved cognitive abilities, stronger sense of community, less traffic congestion, safer streets (communities with the higher walk/bike rates have lower crash rates for all travel modes), decreased incidence of childhood obesity, screen-free time to connect with families and classmates; and finally, less air pollution from cars.

When kids are empowered to walk and bike to school, we all win.

We know that walkable/bikeable towns designed around people and place increase physical activity for people of all ages and abilities.

We know that kids who learn to move young (real young!) — like in preschool — are more likely to move as adults.

We also know that adults who move more are healthier, happier, and better connected with their community.

After 4 years of administering Traverse City’s Safe Routes To School initiative with Norte, the data indicates that we’re improving but the walk/bike participation rate within the City is still less than 10%. We can do better. Much better.

With the start of another school, I encourage everyone to get involved at their neighborhood school or at their neighborhood association and take action to support happier, healthier, more ready to learn students across Northern Michigan. It matters.

These small neighborhood-level actions – think skipping the carline once in a while to walk with your child or leading a bike train or speaking up at meetings for more sidewalks – will lead to big, society-level changes that can transform the culture of health not just for our kids but for all of us.