Safe Routes to School

This is a guest blog post by Karin Valentine Goins.  Karin worked as the Mass in Motion Coordinator for Worcester for two years, is an active member of the Worcester Food & Active Living Policy Council, and heads up the Active Transportation Working Group.  Karin is a walker, a biker, and a great community advocate.  This will be the first of many guest blog posts by Karin on issues of active transportation and active community environments.

I am a substitute crossing guard at my kids’ elementary school for the first two weeks of school. As an advocate for active transportation – walking or biking – and the Safe Routes to School coordinator for our school, this is a great chance to see the challenges from a different perspective. We are regular walkers and I admire the crossing guards, but now my hat goes off to them.

Safe Routes to Schools advocates 5 Es: Engineering, Enforcement, Education, Encouragement, and Evaluation. Last year the school got new concrete sidewalks around it to replace crumbling, broken ones. Following street resurfacing this summer, crosswalks in front of the school were redone using a plastic material that lasts longer than paint, is more visible, and is less slippery. New curbcuts with “detectable warning surfaces” (the bumpy yellow rectangles) warn pedestrians they are approaching a street.

So how did this affect kids’ safety getting to and from school? No more uneven sidewalk surfaces to trip on. The new crosswalks help drivers better see where people should cross. Placing temporary plastic figures in the crosswalks forced drivers to slow down. But many parents and other adults crossed kids away from the crosswalks, wandered across the street rather walking than straight across, or stopped their vehicle to let kids out in crosswalks, next to crosswalks, and in the middle of the street. Drivers also did U-turns in the middle of the street after dropping off their children and talked on cell phones as they drove past a school starting for the day.

For our school, recent Engineering changes are a big plus.  We saw evidence of the need to increase Education about safe arrivals at school, Encouragement to increase the percentage of walkers (the majority of our students live in walking distance), and Enforcement of traffic laws to complement the infrastructure improvements. International Walk to School Day is October 5 this year. Twelve Worcester Public Schools currently participate in the Massachusetts Safe Routes to Schools program and are developing their school’s approach. Call your local school and ask how you can get involved. Or join the Active Transportation work group of the Food and Active Living Policy Council. Building on the work of the city’s Mass in Motion grant, this group is tackling policy and environmental factors to get more people walking and biking. How can we better connect places so people can reach them by walking or biking? How can we create more destinations that people can reach by foot or bike? How can we make routes safer for pedestrians and bicyclists?  These are some of the questions we’ll be exploring in this group.  To get involved contact Karin Valentine Goins at

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