By ROBIN JENKINSON
Did you walk or bike to school as a child? If you’re over 60, it’s likely you did.
In 1969, only 12 per cent of students were driven to school and half walked or biked, whereas by 2012, only 12 per cent walked/biked, and over half were driven. In one generation, the way students get to school has been completely inverted.
To encourage more students to bus, bike and walk to school more often, BC Healthy Communities selected 12 schools across B.C., including Salt Spring Elementary, to participate in an Active School Travel pilot program for 2022.
Island Pathways is building on this project to offer reduced-cost helmets, bike skills and safety workshops to children from all of Salt Spring’s public primary schools during the month of May. Plus, ICBC and the Lions Club have chipped in to support an exciting West Coast pilot of All Kids Bike, an innovative Strider Bike two-week in-school P.E. program to teach every child on Salt Spring to ride a bike by age seven.
Why? There are so many reasons to encourage active school travel. Jennifer Keesmaat, the former chief city planner for Toronto gave a fabulous TEDxRegina talk in 2012 on the topic.
She says, “Walking to school is an indicator of what we believe in and what we choose to value . . . of the health of our children, our environment, and communities.”
Data show increased happiness, decreased stress, increased concentration for at least four hours, better school grades and overall academics, alertness, lower BMI, and better sleep associated with active travel to school. Across Canada, only 12 per cent of children get their 90 minutes/day of recommended physical activity. Childhood obesity in Canada has doubled since 1979. Biking or walking to school helps.
Here in B.C., the greatest contributor to greenhouse gasses is transportation (40 per cent), and passenger transport comprises the biggest share. In its appropriately named CleanBC Roadmap to 2030, the province set targets to increase the share of personal trips made by walking, cycling, and transit for all ages from about 25 per cent today to 30 per cent by 2030, 40 per cent by 2040 and 50 per cent by 2050.
In a 2020 survey of Salt Spring Elementary families who usually drive, 82 per cent would prefer walk and wheel, but choose to drive because of legitimate traffic safety concerns and convenience. The sad truth is that auto and road collision is the leading cause of injury and death for ages one to 19 in Canada. The neat thing is: when you choose not to drive, you are helping to improve the safety of our roads for everyone! And, evidence shows that children are more likely to be harmed in a car accident compared to walking to school.
Our choices affect safety. Collisions increase with traffic volume and traffic speed. Road safety for students walking to school is inversely related to the number of people who drive their children to school. On average, school drop-off drivers make up at least 10 per cent of rush-hour road traffic. School staff who drive add more. We can add slow-zones and more signage, but choosing not to drive, itself, contributes to safer roads.
It goes without saying that improved safety for children, and for all pedestrians and cyclists, improves the quality of life for our community as a whole.
Studies show that walking and biking to school encourages more friendships, a greater sense of belonging and social connection, better understanding of one’s local built and natural environment, improved spatial awareness, and self-sufficiency. Win win win.
Most importantly, it’s fun!
As Keesmaat states, “Walking to school is a simple, hopeful, and powerful act.”
So, how can you take steps to walk, bike or bus more often?
Since 1988, Island Pathways volunteers have advocated for safer transportation and better regional connections for Salt Spring Island, have built kilometers of separated, packed gravel multi-use pathways with partners, and have coordinated many years of GoByBike BC, Helmets for Life, and Walk&Wheel to School events.
Become a member of Island Pathways today and consider joining our Cycling Salt Spring committee.