It turns out that October is International Walk to School month. I'd feel worse about not knowing that, but I'm hoping my kids are a minimum of a decade away from existing, so school programs aren't necessarily on my radar.
At any rate, in an effort to get more kids to walk to school, the Seattle Department of Transportation is accepting applications for grants of up to $1,000 to help fund "creative activities or safety improvements to encourage more children to walk or bike to school." This is the third year SDOT has offered the grant; private and public schools, along with PTAs and other school related nonprofits are eligible to apply.
According to SDOT's Brian Dougherty, the agency has $15,000 to give away. In the past, SDOT has given out grants ranging between $200 and $1000 to fund bicycle safety classes, bike rodeos, bike-to-school days, safe walking programs, and the purchase of equipment for student safety patrols.
According to the National Center for Safe Routes to School, only 13 percent of American kids ages five to 14 walked or biked to school regularly in 2009. That's down from nearly 50 percent in 1969 (when only about 12 percent of students were driven or drove to school).
Walking and biking to school with other neighborhood kids all through elementary and middle school was always fun and helped me learn how to interact with my peers in an unstructured setting (not to mention, allowed me do stupid shit that I later got in trouble for and learned not to do again). It's healthy and helps facilitate the 60 or more minutes of physical activity the Centers for Disease Control says kids need daily. And it promotes socializing.
Perhaps most importantly, educating kids about walking and biking increases the likelihood that they'll walk and bike as adults. In Utrecht, Netherlands (see? We don't always talk about Copenhagen here), where 33 percent of the population bikes, 95 percent of students 12 to 14 ride their bikes to school. Kids learn safe biking in school and students often take bike versions of drivers education courses at an early age.
Obviously other factors, like the Netherlands' high-quality infrastructure, play into that country's high bicycling rate. But it's undeniable that the efforts there to encourage kids to bike to school has made a difference. Similarly robust education efforts should be incorporated into schools in Seattle as we work to triple the number of people who get around by bike, reduce car dependence, and reach carbon neutrality.
SDOT is accepting grant applications until October 29, and will announce winners on December 1.