Under Their Own Steam: Getting Students Walking and Cycling to School by Robert S. Ogilvie, vice president for strategic engagement at ChangeLab Solutions.
In 1969, approximately 40 percent of American children walked or rode their bikes to school. By 2009, this number plummeted to 13 percent. What was once a twice-daily opportunity for physical activity for many American children had, in 40 years, been nearly eliminated. This decrease in daily physical activity corresponds with a dramatic increase in childhood obesity, which has, in turn, become a national health epidemic.
There are a number of reasons why fewer children are walking to school. According to research done by Noreen McDonald and Annette E. Aalborg, schools are now farther away from students’ homes, and it is faster or more convenient for the parents to drive the children, even if their schools are in reasonable walking or biking distance. But the largest single reason, as illustrated in the chart below, is fear of “stranger danger,” this despite the fact that the possibility of being kidnapped by a stranger is very low.
Safe Routes to School as a Solution
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is leading the movement to get children walking and cycling again. Formed from a network of community based organizations, government agencies and professional groups who have been working at the national, state and local level around the country since 2005, the Partnership aims to make walking and bicycling to and from schools a safe, regular practice in the United States.
ChangeLab Solutions supports the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and we have worked with them to help get safe routes to school policies adopted. The latest result of our partnership is the release of our interactive Safe Routes to School Policy Workbook.
This workbook, the first of its kind, is designed to let school board members, administrators, families of students, and community members create and implement policies that support active transportation and Safe Routes to School programs. The easy-to-use workbook walks policy makers through a series of options that guides them in building their own customized Safe Routes to School policy, which they can then apply in their own communities. On each page of the policy builder, every explanation of a policy element is followed by one or more potential choices for tailoring that element to individual communities.
After reading the explanation of a policy element, users can then decide what elements to include or not include in their policy. Each element is rated using a one to three-star rating system, with the stronger policy elements given more stars. There are 26 different policy elements users can navigate through, and at the end, the individualized policy receives a score based on the choices made. Users will also receive suggestions for how to improve that score and make their policies stronger.
ChangeLab Solutions offers an array of tools to help make safer streets and safer routes to school a reality, including the Safe Routes to School (Roadmap & Brochure) and Getting the Wheels Rolling: A Guide to Using Policy to Create Bicycle Friendly Communities.
Robert Ogilvie serves as the Vice President for Strategic Engagement at ChangeLab Solutions. Over the past 20 years he has worked extensively in community development and planning to help improve low- and middle-income neighborhoods.
Prior to joining ChangeLab Solutions, he served as a faculty member in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley; as a consultant to city and county governments, nonprofit organizations, and neighborhood activists; and as Director of Volunteers at the Partnership for the Homeless in New York City. He is the author of Voluntarism, Community Life, and the American Ethic (Indiana University Press, 2004), and co-author of Opening School Grounds to the Community After Hours: A Toolkit on Joint Use.
Robert is a member of the Editorial Board of Community Development: Journal of the Community Development Society and is a member of the American Planning Association, the American Public Health Association, the California Redevelopment Association, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, and the Urban Land Institute.
Robert holds a PhD in political science from Columbia University.