October is International Walk to School Month!
Although some schools in Cleveland have been celebrating walking for years by hosting Walk to School Days, walking school buses, and walking field trips to locations like the neighborhood library, others are just getting started. However, last fall, Cleveland became the fifth city in Ohio and one of the first in the nation to launch a large school district-wide travel plan to improve walking and biking conditions for approximately 27,000 students across 69 Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) schools.
Cleveland’s school travel plan uses the national Safe Routes to School framework to support school attendance, academic performance, positive conditions for learning, and a focus on health and equity by enabling and encouraging CMSD K-8 students to walk or bicycle to school safely. Safe Routes to School organizes improvement strategies into 5 Es:
• Education—Teaching students how to walk and ride to school safely
• Encouragement—Using activities and programs to make walking and biking fun and safe
• Engineering—Improving sidewalks and roads
• Enforcement—Working with police, crossing guards, and community members to make sure that laws are being followed
• Evaluation—Checking that what we are doing is making a difference
Research shows that walking and biking are not just a way to get to school—there are clear academic and health benefits. Students who are physically active before class, such as walking to school, are more focused and ready to learn. And, a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) process led by the Cleveland Planning Commission concluded that Safe Routes to School interventions will improve health outcomes, including pedestrian and cyclist injury, youth violence, childhood obesity, and stress and anxiety.
Although Cleveland Safe Routes to School is just beginning to transition from the planning phase to implementation, there are already many successes to celebrate. Over 5,000 parents informed the approach of the Cleveland Safe Routes program by participating in a district-wide survey. A second grade bicycle PE program supported by the Saint Luke’s Foundation launched at six schools in Spring 2016 and continues this fall. And in July, the Ohio Department of Transportation announced a $460,000 grant award to the City of Cleveland to improve the safety of mid-block crossings near schools and to continue Safe Routes programming for Cleveland students.
Students, parents, school staff, and community members all have a role to play in making it safe for children to walk or bike on our neighborhood streets. For more information about Cleveland Safe Routes to School and to get involved, visit www.clevelandmetroschools.org/saferoutes.