Girl Planting seeds

A Healthier Route To School

By Erin S. Ihde, MA


With 50.4 million children returning to grade school this fall and traffic congestion peaking during the morning rush, getting to school can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory issues for many kids. Timothy McAuley, PhD weighs in about these and other impacts on children’s health.  As Chief Executive Manager of CHANGE (Consulting for Health, Air, Nature, & a Greener Environment, LLC), Dr. McAuley authored the Safe Routes to School and Traffic Pollution resource guide, providingtimely information to make getting to school as healthy and safe as possible.


1.What is Safe Routes to School and how did your organization become involved?

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s mission is to advocate for safe walking and bicycling to and from schools, and in daily life, to improve the health and well being of America’s children and to foster the creation of livable, sustainable communities. The Partnership is hosted by Bikes Belong Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit which is a sister organization to Bikes Belong Coalition.  Safe Routes to School was founded in 2005 and is a network of more than 550 groups working to set goals, share best practices, leverage infrastructure and program funding and advance policy change.  I became part of this effort when Consulting for Health, Air, Nature, & a Greener Environment, LLC (CHANGE) was awarded the contract to conduct research and write the resource guide along with Safe Routes to School National Partnership.


2. What are the main barriers to kids walking or biking to school and how can schools and communities help?

One of the main challenges is to identify and map locations of nearby streets that will allow kids to walk or bike in less traffic congested areas. This is critical especially in urban centers with large traffic counts.  Schools and communities in conjunction with air quality experts can work together to help identify and promote safer and cleaner ways to walk and bike to school to help protect children's health. Although this is not an easy task, we do hope that the resource guide can help schools, communities, policy makers and legislators work together to help promote safer transportation routes.


2. What are 3 steps parents can take to help their child walk or bike to school safely?

Three steps parents can take include 1.) help their child walk or bike to school safely include understanding times when traffic is heavy as and try to work around those times, 2.) Help the children identified less congested roads were heavy traffic is expected to reduce air pollution exposures, and 3.) Accompany their children by offering to walk and or bike with their children within the roads identified to ensure safe travel to the school. There are current programs that are often used such as "walking buses" where adults walk with a group of children to school that not only promotes safer travel but also promotes an increase in physical activity.


4. How does traffic pollution affect kids’ health?

Air pollution can affect children's health in many ways, particularly pertaining to lung function as children's lungs are developing, and increased exposures to traffic related air pollutants have been shown in a number of studies to have an impact on children's lung growth and function.


5. How do rising childhood asthma and obesity rates factor into the efforts of Safe Routes to School?

Childhood asthma and physical activity rates are on ongoing mission of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.   Safe Routes initiatives work with schools and communities to help map out and identify safer and less congested traffic routes. By providing parents and children with the understanding and knowledge to help reduce air pollution exposures through identifying clear and safe routes, parents and children may be more interested in walking and biking to school. In addition, Safe Routes helps children understand the negative health impacts of physically inactivity, while showing the many benefits of being physically active.


6. What type of research or other efforts would you like to see going forward to further Safe Routes initiatives?

Currently Safe Routes has a number of very strong educational programs that are wonderful tools for communities, families, teachers, parents, and policymakers.  I’d like to see support for Safe Routes programs continue to grow, so that children’s health and safety will be more of a national priority.  Learn more at    


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