Walking to school is getting a lot more respect these days – locally and across the globe. Instead of walk to school week once a semester, parent groups are encouraging children to walk every week.
A community-wide effort under the national “Safe Routes to School” movement is “trying to get some sustainability of the effort,” said Liz Fitzgerald, a PTA coordinator of Walk to School Week at Chatsworth School. “With all of the media coverage – combined with concerns about gas prices, the environment and childhood obesity – people are becoming aware that you can take ‘small steps’ by walking to school.”
Chatsworth has 10 “Walking School Bus” routes operating for Walk to School Week, from October 5-9. Parent volunteers “pick up” children along an announced route and drop them off at school. Similar routes are running at Murray, Central and Mamaroneck Avenue.
At Mamaroneck Avenue School, volunteers will punch walking cards each morning; the students will collect prizes on Friday when they turn in their cards. “Children love the activity and the social aspects of the walking school bus,” said Kim Larsen, a Central School and Hommocks parent who heads up the Safe Routes program for the entire Mamaroneck School District. “It’s becoming cool to walk to school.”
Parents received flyers last week on pedestrian and driver responsibilities; copies are airing on LMC-TV’s community bulletin board.
Ongoing efforts include “Walking Wednesdays” at least once a month at Chatsworth and Murray. At Murray, there are plans for a possible theme of the month and an end-of-year bagel brunch for bus participants.
In addition to school-based programs, the local Safe Routes group is working with local municipalities to add sidewalks, crosswalks and other improvements that remove impediments to walking or biking. For example, after a Safe Routes to School workshop in 2008 identified a Hommocks crossing as hazardous, the Town of Mamaroneck invested $25,000 to install curbs and crosswalks that are now keeping students from standing in the street as they wait to cross Hommocks Road.
An independent group of residents in Larchmont’s Pinebrook neighborhood were at the Village Board meeting on Monday, October 5 to advocate for a safety study aimed at making their streets safer for children walking or biking to school. (See: Pinebrook Residents Call for Safety Study.) In March, a Walkable Communities Workshop included a walking tour of Larchmont Village by a livable communities consultant who offered recommendations for large and small changes to enhance walkability. (See: Workshop “Walks the Talk” in Larchmont’s Business District.)
Early attempts to document the impact of the various walk to school efforts suggest some success. At Central School , 20% of students reported walking to school in March 2008. In May 2009, the figure had risen to 50%. While noting that better weather might have skewed results, Ms. Larsen was optimistic that “we are likely moving the needle!” She added, “We hope to purchase tickers and enlist crossing guards to help us get more accurate readings of pedestrian volume.”
At Chatsworth, a glitch in an online data system hampered the collection of information, but Ms. Fitzgerald said around 57% of children were driven in a family vehicle to school in March 2008, while 34% walked and almost no one carpooled or took a bus. In June 2009, over 50% walked.
Most children at Chatsworth live in Larchmont Village and are less than a mile from school, which translates to an average of around 10 miles of commuting to and from school per week. “Avoiding driving 10 miles a week would eliminate 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emission per year,” pointed out Ms. Fitzgerald.