The city of Aurora and School District U46 are receiving a chunk of the $5.9 million federal investment to create Illinois Safe Routes to School. This federally funded program is designed to enable and encourage children to walk and bike to school by creating a safe environment.
The Illinois Department of Transportation announced Monday that 58 projects were OK’d statewide, from the repair and new construction of sidewalks and pedestrian countdown signals to speed feedback signs and equipment for police to ensure students’ safety when walking and biking to school.
According to the IDOT press release, the city of Aurora will receive $79,461 to construct sidewalk along the west side of Eastern Avenue from Liberty Street to Coolidge Avenue. Aurora will also receive $50,097 to fill sidewalk gaps on Randall Road from Garfield Avenue to Galena Boulevard.
The city of Elgin and School District U46 will receive $24,000 to purchase portable speed feedback signs to be posted in school zones.
In support of the program, the Illinois Department of Transportation will continue to work with communities to provide safety training and educational materials to further encourage safe, healthy and green alternatives for children to get to school. This will help ensure a consistent statewide program and favorable outcomes from the Safe Routes to School projects.
Illinois Safe Routes to School is a program of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. The program is designed to provide a safe environment to enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school and encourage a healthy lifestyle from an early age. The program also facilitates projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution in the vicinity of primary and middle schools.
What Caused the Decline in Walking and Bicycling to School?
The circumstances that have led to a decline in walking and bicycling to school did not happen overnight and have created a self-perpetuating cycle. The following reasons are often cited by parents:
- Distance to School. Beginning in the 1970s, rather than renovating existing schools or building within the community, most new schools were built on the edges of communities where the land costs were lower. This requires many students to travel farther making it difficult, if not impossible, for children to walk or bicycle to school.
- Traffic-Related Danger. In 2004, 493 pedestrians and bicyclists ages 14 and under were killed and approximately 29,000 children were injured while walking or bicycling in the United States. An increasingly common response by many parents is to drive their child to school. However, being inside a motor vehicle does not ensure safety. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for school-age children.
- Weather Conditions. While the weather has not changed much since a generation ago when so many children walked or biked, adverse weather is frequently cited as a reason for not allowing children to walk to school.
- Crime Danger. Crime concerns may be based on both real and perceived crime. In any case, these fears affect how many children are allowed to walk or bicycle to school. SRTS programs work to identify the real dangers and perceptions and try to address both.
- Opposing School Policies. Some schools or communities enforce school policies that prohibit children from walking and bicycling to school. Although the restriction may have stemmed from safety concerns for students, its implications could work against a SRTS program. The solution may be to address the safety issues rather than permanently prohibit walking and bicycling to school. Identifying and understanding the reasons underlying the policy can help programs address important issues and reverse the policy if appropriate.