National Walking Day Highlights Need for Safe School Routes
ST. PAUL, Minn. - As many people gear up for National Walking Day, some Minnesotans are asking the state to do more to help youngsters find safer walking routes to school.
Groups such as the American Heart Association are backing a $6 million funding plan for the "Safe Routes to School" program. Michelle Breidenbach, Safe Routes to School education coordinator for the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, has been working to educate people about the program and said encouraging kids to walk can help reverse a dangerous trend.
"Back in 1969, about 50 percent of kids were walking and biking to school," she said, "and now that has decreased to 15 percent, which is a great concern because of the rate of obesity in our children."
The money would be used in part to install new sidewalks in some communities, Breidenbach said, but noted that the proposal could face opposition in the Minnesota House, as some lawmakers push instead to fund other infrastructure projects, such as fixing aging bridges.
According to the latest numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2013 about 290 children were killed after being hit by cars while walking or bicycling. Breidenbach said the Safe Routes to School program helps schools plan better paths for students.
"They've actually plotted a map, and either have it on their school website or they have it available to parents to show and share with their kids," she said, "routes that they can take that get them to school and home safely."
Bills to set aside $6 million for the Safe Routes program are sitting in both the Minnesota House and Senate. The text of one, House File 2388, is online at revisor.mn.gov.
Traffic safety data is available at nhtsa.dot.gov.