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Take the Safe Route to School this year

City of Santa Clarita

Posted: July 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.

City of Santa Clarita / Courtesy photo

 

We’ve all heard the stories our parents and grandparents would tell us as kids about walking to school uphill, both ways, in the snow.

My mother was raised in Oregon, so it was easier to believe these tales when she told them. We never really bought Dad’s (he was raised in Los Angeles), but it turns out there may have been a lot of truth to his words too.

In 1969, about half of American kids rode their bikes or walked to school. Today, that number has fallen to just 13 percent.

Within the span of one generation, we’ve seen this number dwindle, while obesity rates and childhood health issues continue to rise.

Here in Santa Clarita, we’re working to change those numbers. One example of this commitment is the Safe Routes to School program, which provides funding to municipalities to help make areas around schools more conducive to walking or biking.

Safe Routes to School grants can be used for physical improvements, including digital speed feedback signs to alert motorists to their speed, pedestrian countdown signals, crosswalk improvements, increased signage around schools, raised crosswalks to slow vehicles and curb extensions to reduce crossing distances.

Together, these changes help to ease traffic and increase driver awareness of people walking to school.

Santa Clarita is known for its award-winning schools, many of which are located within walking distance of great neighborhoods. However, a shorter distance does not always lead to more kids walking and biking to school.

In America, private vehicles still account for nearly half of all school trips from .5 to 1 mile long. Those are distances that can be easily covered on foot or bike, all while helping to improve kids’ health and subsequently alleviating the school run traffic crunch.

To help encourage kids to walk and bike to school, the city of Santa Clarita has applied for, and won, eight Safe Routes to School grants totaling $3.7 million combined since 2007.

This funding has been spread across the community, typically with three schools benefitting each year.

So far, 21 local schools have received enhancements through Safe Routes to School.

Most recently, Fair Oaks Ranch, Mountainview, Plum Canyon elementary, James Foster, Skyblue Mesa and Pinetree schools saw improvements in 2013 thanks to a $450,000 grant secured through the program.

A portion of this funding also goes toward providing education programs at the schools receiving Safe Routes to School improvements.

These interactive and educational workshops are designed to inform kids, parents and teachers about the changes being implemented around the school, provide an understanding of basic traffic laws and share tips about walking and biking to school.

One example is the recent Kids Biking and Walking Festival held at Fair Oaks Ranch Community School this past May.

The free, interactive event included bike safety checks and demonstrations, helmet fittings, bike skills courses and activity stations where kids could create bike license plates, spoke cards and other bike-themed crafts.

The Safe Routes to School program also encourages kids to participate in bike-friendly events, including national Walk and Bike to School days and city events like the Hit the Trail community bike ride.

A number of local schools have also launched their own “Walk to School Wednesdays,” creating a fun group experience that motivates kids to walk and bike to school with classmates and friends.

Schools that receive infrastructure improvements through the Safe Routes to School program typically see a substantial increase in walking and biking.

This fact has proved true in Santa Clarita, as a recent survey showed 18 percent of local elementary school students walk to school each day on average.

These numbers are well above the American average and are even higher on designated walk to school days.

The Santa Clarita City Council is committed to enhancing neighborhood safety and fostering an active community for families.

By providing a favorable walking environment around schools, kids are encouraged to live healthier lives from an early age.

And because kids who walk or bike to school are also shown to perform better academically, Safe Routes to School is helping to pave the way toward lifelong success in and out of the classroom.

To learn more about the Safe Routes to School program, or for tips and information on biking and walking to school, visit SCSafeRoutes.com, or contact Ian Pari, senior traffic engineer and the Safe Routes to School program coordinator for the city, at 661-284-1402.

Dante Acosta is a member of the Santa Clarita City Council and can be reached at dacosta@santa-clarita.com.

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