Congratulations to advocates in Colorado for the years of hard work to build a safe routes to school program! We especially want to thank leader Sara Kurz and Kyle Legleiter.
- The American Heart Association, Erin Hackett, Susanna Mizer
- Bicycle Colorado, Dan Grunig
- LiveWell Colorado, Sara Kurz
- The Colorado Health Foundation, Kyle Legleiter
- Healthier Colorado, Jake Williams
Colorado is taking new strides to make sure students can walk or bike to school each day. Last month, the state Safe Routes to School program received dedicated annual funding of $2.5 million with an emphasis on ensuring funds are used to increase walking and biking to school in lower-income communities where rates of physical inactivity are the highest.
Advocates for this additional funding included the American Heart Association, Healthier Colorado, Bicycle Colorado, LiveWell Colorado and the Colorado Health Foundation. Working alongside the Colorado Department of Transportation, who oversees the Safe Routes to School program, and with support from Governor John Hickenlooper, the advocates are looking forward to getting more kids active before and after school.
Barb Parnell , Ph.D. LiveWell Northwest CO Community Coordinator, works with three school districts. One of the districts worked to add sidewalks on major thoroughfares in low-income communities to connect neighborhoods to school. “The clear benefit is that it wasn’t safe to walk to schools across the main roads. Now that they have sidewalks and crosswalks on the main highway, it is safe,” says Parnell. The other benefits she found in her work is educating parents on why they want their kids to walk to school: to get kids’ brains ready for school. Some parents became so interested in making sure their kids were ready to learn that they asked for even the kids who were bussed in from further away to have a central drop off point so they could still walk fifteen minutes before starting the school day.
While 60 minutes of physical activity each day is recommended for children and youth, CDC data shows only 26.9% of youth in Colorado achieve that goal. The American Heart Association advocates for safe routes to school as a way to improve these rates and create safer, healthier communities. According to a recent report, such Safe Routes to School programs increase walking as much as 45% and in addition to the health benefits, research shows that just a few minutes of walking to school helps kids learn better in the classroom, increases their focus and decreases unwelcome negative behavior. Critical to the nature of having children, especially students in elementary schools, walk to school, is teaching them safety skills. Equally critical, however, is the infrastructure of sidewalks to walk on, crosswalks with timers or crossing guards, and curb cuts (ramps) to allow parents with strollers to easily walk with their older children. Funding for Safe Routes to School makes the infrastructure and theeducation possible so that, hand in hand, parents and children can safely walk to school.
This funding didn’t just come out of the blue. The advocates started working to secure funding for Safe Routes to Schools in September 2013, when a group of organizations with similar transportation and health priorities convened to discuss how we might be able to ensure the Safe Routes to School program in Colorado had continued funding through state dollars, not just federal funding. The coalition decided the year was ripe to run legislation creating the Safe Routes to School program at the state level which would have dedicated money to both infrastructure and education efforts.
“We started with an ‘ask’ of $3 million dollars to be dedicated to both aspects of the program,” recalls Erin Hackett, government relations director with the American Heart Association in Colorado. “The Coalition fought an uphill battle and ended the session with a total of $700,000 going toward education efforts only, but the program was created to fund both infrastructure and education in years to come.” She says they decided to take the issue head-on again this year. Raising awareness across the legislature was an integral step in leading to the funding. This also built stronger relationships with staff at the Department of Transportation, paving the way to dedicated funding.