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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Walking & Biking to School: By the Numbers

This young walker from Oak Grove Elementary School got his exercise walking to school!

This young walker from Oak Grove Elementary School got his exercise walking to school!

AHA’s Community Connections Work Group worked with Wake County PTA Council this past fall to survey PTA leaders in Wake County about walking and biking status at their schools. Forty-five PTA leaders responded, representing 35 schools. When asked about current activities and strategies to support safe walking and biking at their school, they noted the following:

  • 41% cited national Walk/Bike to School Days,
  • 27% have a hired or municipality assigned crossing guard,
  • 20% encourage biking and walking,
  • 13% have regular biking or walking activities (such as Walking Wednesdays) and
  • 13% have assessed walkability and bikeability around the school.

Active transportation to school is a key strategy for increasing physical activity among children and teens; and Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs have a significant impact in increasing the number of students walking or biking to school.

Planning Walk to School or Bike to School Days is a way to kickstart such programs and gain momentum. According to Nancy Pullen-Seufert of the National Center for Safe Routes to School, 68% of surveyed NC 2013 Walk to School Day organizers noted that policy or engineering changes have been made or will be made as a result of their event. The top changes cited are:

  • the addition of walking/biking promotion to existing school policies,
  • increased traffic enforcement near the school,
  • changes to drop-off and pick-up procedures,
  • the addition of safety education (required by the school) and
  • the addition of sidewalks, paths or crosswalks.

The Active Routes to School Project, a joint partnership between the NC Dept. of Transportation and the NC Division of Public Health, has hired 10 regional coordinators who are charged with increasing awareness, facilitating programs that encourage walking and biking to school, trainings, policy change and identifying infrastructure needs. Evaluation is a key piece as well, so the coordinators are working with schools across the state to collect data. Data from 149 NC schools shows that 3.7% of students walk to school in the morning and 5.5% walk home in the afternoon, while .7% bike to school in the morning and .6% bike home. North Carolina has approximately one-quarter of the national average for student walking rates. On a promising note,  the number of schools participating in Walk to School Day in the state has increased from 16 in 2004 to 157 in 2014, and awareness is growing.

In Wake County, Jennifer Delcourt is the Active Routes to School Region 5 Coordinator and is available to help elementary and middle schools increase the number of students walking/biking to school. Active Routes to School Region 5 is hosted by Wake County Human Services, within the Health Promotion Chronic Disease Prevention Section.

National Bike to School Day is May 6 this year, and schools can participate by walking, biking or both.   Register events and view resources to plan a Bike to School Day— a great tool to launch schools’ active transportation plans. The Let’s Go NC! curriculum for grades K-5 provides free instruction materials for teaching students about essential walking and biking safety skills.

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