MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now to a major part of many people's childhoods, school and how we get to and fro. Just a few decades ago, many kids walked or biked to school, but today that's relatively rare. And that shift is the topic of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Wednesday was the first national Bike to School day and across our region, parents and advocacy groups are working to make walking and biking more practical, especially in communities designed for cars. Transportation reporter, Martin Di Caro, hit the streets and brings us this story.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
These kids are starting their day right. They're moving.
MS. ROBIN SCHEPPER
When my kid was in first grade and we started walking to school, my teacher thanked me. She said, what are you doing in the morning? And I said, well, we're walking or biking and trying to get to the playground early.
Getting kids moving is Robin Schepper's passion, a resident of the Forest Hills neighborhood in Northwest D.C. She's the leader of the Safe Routes to School Program in Murch Elementary School. She won an award for Advocacy in 2008 and walks with her 6 and 10-year-old sons to school every day.
There are not sidewalks everywhere here.
A lack of sidewalks is just one of many reasons why only 13 percent of American children walk or bike to school. Forty years ago, half of all kids did so.
I hate it. I was stopped by a police officer about two months ago and she said hey, you got to be careful, this is not safe for your children. And I said, I know. I've been trying to get a sidewalk here for years.
While she fights for safer streets in D.C., father of three, Jeff Anderson, is trying to get kids in Vienna, Va., on bicycles.
MR. JEFF ANDERSON
Well, I started here at Wolftrap Elementary by asking our principal for a bike rack one day.
Three years ago, there wasn't a single bike rack at the school. Now there are four, thanks to Anderson's decision to organize caravans of riders, what he refers to as bike trains.
I do it once a month. We usually have between 10 and 15 kids who join me and we ride to school. We take the back roads and avoid the main roads.
Anderson, his daughter Laurel and son Eric met me outside their school one morning, right after they rode their bikes together.
MS. LAUREL ANDERSON
I like doing it because we're not using energy and it's a lot of fun and I like getting exercise in the morning.
Anderson is convinced that if more kids just gave it a try, they'd be bugging their parents to let them do it more often.
In the '60s, 50 to 60 percent of kids biked or walked to school. We didn't have type II Diabetes in children. We didn't have an obesity problem in children.
Of Wolftrap Elementary's 558 students, Anderson says fewer than 1/5 walk or bike.
We're trying to get the school system to restart the bike and pedestrian education that they used to give. So we kind of have like 10 years worth of kids from what I can tell who haven't been given a pedestrian and bike education that they used to get.
In the Kentland's community in Montgomery County, awareness is not a problem, a model of new urbanism the Kentland's was designed for walking, not the automobile, making it a rarity. Sidewalks are wide and roads are narrow. John Schlichting is the chairman of the Kentland's Community Foundation.
MR. JOHN SCHLICHTING
There are roads, calm traffic, keep cars going more slowly, keeps the houses more closer together which creates neighborliness.
The design of this neighborhood is the key. No parent will be convinced to let their kids walk or bike anywhere if they feel the roads aren't safe. Kentland's resident, Elena Dietz is 11 years old and has always walked to school.
MS. ELENA DIETZ
Well, I always cross in the crosswalks and there's lots of crosswalks and sidewalks in the Kentland's. So it's not like you're walking in the middle of the street. But if I were somewhere else, I might not feel as safe.
It's also a matter of convenience and time. Parents are busy in the morning. They want to talk to their kids in the car. These parents, outside D.C.'s Murch Elementary were driving their kids to school.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1
They didn't get ready in time to take the bus. So...
Do they ever walk?
Do your kids ever walk to school?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 2
No, because we're out of boundary.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 3
He will sometimes walk to school, but rarely because we're always in a rush in the morning.
And there's a reason some parents may not admit, but this 12-year-old boy confesses why he won't walk a mere 15 minutes to school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1
I am very lazy.
Finding solutions to these challenges is the job of Christine Green, who works on regional policy for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.
MS. CHRISTINE GREEN
Bring all the players in the community together, that's the school system, that's the transportation engineers, the planners, the public health folks, the community advocates.
Her organizations goal is to make every community more walkable and bike friendly through the use of federal grants.
You must be complete a school travel plan before you do an application. And the school travel plan requires you to look at the infrastructure around your school, it requires you to do some counts about the number of kids walking and biking to school currently.
So solving this problem is not as easy as parents just telling their kids to get up and go. Although some may say, that might be a good start. I'm Martin Di Caro.
After the break, a community seeks a place for kids to be kids.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 4
It has a big impact on because we don't have enough space to play, you know, have fun.
And a D.C.'s schools chancellor lays out some big plans for the future.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 5
I honestly believe that without a plan people are rowing the boat in very different directions. We want the community in our stakeholders to be unambiguous about where we are trying to go.
That and more coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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