By Jonathan N Hooshmand, Researcher in Public Health, University of Miami KiDZ Neuroscience Center, USA.
Safe Routes to School, Vision Zero, and Complete Streets are three movements that have gained increasing attention and support in the United States. These movements support not only active transportation and the right to move, but most importantly, the right to move safely in one’s community.
In an age of abundant standardized testing and decreased recreation in U.S. classrooms, it’s important that we provide our children with opportunities to safely move around in their communities to and from school. Active transportation to school builds activity into the day and can result in improved physical and mental health, as well as improved academic performance. This is especially important for a child’s development.
The University of Miami’s BikeSafe and WalkSafe programs provide educational, injury prevention curriculums to elementary and middle school teachers which are capable of being taught in any physical education classroom. The WalkSafe program is a shining success story when it comes to safe, active transportation promotion.
WalkSafe began in Miami-Dade County, Florida in 2001 with the formation of a task force of community educators and partners to review historical pediatric injury data from Jackson Memorial Medical Center and the Ryder Trauma Center. The Miami-Dade School District, physicians and researchers from the local trauma centers, Department of Transportation officials, and the Metropolitan Planning Organization met in an attempt to locate the cause of these injuries. Evaluation of this data led to the conclusion that over 71% of PHBC incidents involving children between 5 and 13 years of age took place in the vicinity of elementary schools.
In 2003, the Miami-Dade School Board mandated the WalkSafe program to be taught in elementary schools. Since then, the program has reached over 1 million children and Miami-Dade has seen a 70% decrease in children pedestrians-hit-by-car. Since 2009, the BikeSafe program has reached over 30,000 children in Miami-Dade County schools and parks.
It’s important that while we promote movement, we’re also teaching safe and healthy behaviors. This can be empowering for children and provides comfort to parents to see their children practicing safe behaviors.