FAIRFIELD — To get local schoolchildren to be healthier and more alert in the classroom, Sarah Fitzgerald of the Solano Transportation Authority’s Safe Routes to School program is asking them to get out of their parents’ cars and walk to school.
To do that, she and her staff are promoting efforts such as the Walking School Bus program, with adult volunteers escorting groups of children, the Bay Area Bike Mobile’s visits to local libraries to repair bikes and International Walk to School Day, where participating schools and students get prizes.
“We are working hard to reach out, primarily to elementary schools and middle schools,” Fitzgerald said. “The whole idea is to get kids moving.”
With the start of the school year, the Safe Routes to School organizers are putting together more walking groups, safety assemblies and bike rodeos, as well as channeling money to create more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly routes, such as the Grizzly Island Pedestrian route in Suisun City.
For example, coordinators for the Walking School Bus program are looking for parents and adult volunteers to expand the successful program that has organized and supervised groups of children walking to school along established routes. That program started in 2012 with four participating schools and four routes. As of April, it grew to 18 schools and 33 routes.
Fitzgerald points out it not only creates physical activity for children who haven’t walked to school before and cuts down traffic around schools, but also gives those who already walk to school a safer walking environment.
The Solano Transportation Authority adopted its Safe Routes to School plan in 2008 in response to growing concerns about student travel safety, growing traffic congestion and air pollution around schools, and the increasing amount of childhood obesity.
“The whole idea is to get kids moving,” Fitzgerald said, noting that children who walk or ride a bicycle to school are less tired and socialize more than those who simply ride to school in a car.
Its goals were to increase the number of children who bike or walk to school safely, reduce traffic congestion and pollution, and improve children’s health by increasing physical activity. Within two years, it expanded to cover all of the county’s schools.
The program has since collected more than $2.6 million in grants from organizations such as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Much of that has been spent on programs such as Walking School Bus and items such as radar speed signs, bicycle and pedestrian improvements near schools and education events at local schools.
One of its most prominent pedestrian improvement projects has been the mile-long Grizzly Island Trail, which was formally opened in May with the help of $900,000 from the Safe Routes to School program and now allows Suisun City students to walk from Grizzly Island Road to Marina Boulevard without having to cross Highway 12 twice.
“It is going to be better and easier,” said Crystal Middle School student Sean Collins in May of his commute to and from school now.
Upcoming Safe Routes to School-related projects include improvements along Driftwood Drive in Suisun City, better intersection striping near two Vallejo elementary schools, and sidewalk improvements near Vacaville High School and C.A. Jacobs Middle School in Dixon.
The first of the school year’s walk to school days will be Oct. 8, when the Solano Transportation Authority takes part in the 2014 International Walk to School Day. Last year, 6,655 students and 25 schools, half of whom were in Vacaville, took part in the event. Fitzgerald said she hopes to see that expand this year.
Local schools have until Sept. 29 to register for the Walk to School Day, which will have incentive gifts such as backpacks and water bottles for participants.
Organizers for this and school level walk-to-school events will offer what Fitzgerald called “The Golden Sneaker Award” for the classes with the best participation.
The annual Bike to School Day will return in May 2015. Nine Solano County schools participated in 2014 and that number is expected to grow next spring.
For more information about Safe Routes to School, or to volunteer to take part in programs and events such as International Walk to School Day or help organize a Walking School Bus group, go to www.solanoSR2S.ca.gov or call 424-6075.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.