Safety is the priority for any walk or bike to school event.
To find the safest route to school, look for:
Places to walk or bicycle that are separated from traffic.
Choose sidewalks or paths wherever possible, even if that means the trip will take a little longer.
If there are no sidewalks or paths, walk as far from motor vehicles as possible, on the side of the street facing traffic.
Places to cross (if necessary).
Minimize the number of street crossings.
Avoid busy, high-speed or multi lane roads, wherever possible.
When available, cross at a location with an adult school crossing guard.
Pedestrian- and bike-friendly drivers.
Look for places where drivers are paying attention, yielding to pedestrians and cyclists and respecting speed limits.
A comfortable feeling.
Use a route that avoids potential problems like loose dogs, the presence of criminal activity, vacant buildings or poorly lit streets.
Planning a route
A law enforcement officer or local traffic engineer could also offer helpful input regarding complex routes. Read more about preparing to ride and bicycle safety tips and pedestrian safety tips for children and parents.
Before the event, talk to the principal and other members of the planning team to identify potential issues and how to address them. Potential safety concerns that may be mentioned include:
- Routes that don’t have places to walk that are separated from traffic
- Routes that require crossing streets without adequate crossings
- Personal security risks like bullying or criminal activity
- The need for bicycle helmet use
These issues don’t have to be event-stoppers, but they will certainly influence the event’s structure. Whether the concerns are real or perceived, they should be addressed so that students, families and leaders feel comfortable. Often, events are a great opportunity to prompt bigger conversations about how to address any barriers that get in the way of children walking and bicycling to school safely on a regular basis. If routes are missing sidewalks or if there’s a park that would make a great connector to a nearby neighborhood but it doesn’t feel safe, there’s a two-fold approach: 1. Make a plan for the event. 2. Use the event to bring attention to safety concerns that need to be addressed so that students can walk on a regular basis.
Make a plan for the event.
The following ideas might make things click.
- Consider a remote starting point. Families and others may meet as a group and walk together, or the location may be used simply for parking and families can walk whenever they arrive. If you designate a specific remote starting point, you have more control over the route and you can pick one with sufficient walking conditions.
We meet at a park about a mile down the road from the school. Parents dropped off students and we had two school buses drop students to walk. Police officers had to block the road to allow the approximately 200 walkers to get down the road safely. There are no sidewalks in that area. We hope this event will bring awareness to our need for sidewalks.
– Event organizer, NC
- Get law enforcement involved. Depending on the community, it might be possible to temporarily close streets or have law enforcement direct traffic and assist with crossing students. Law enforcement officers can also use what they know about nearby traffic conditions to help design recommended walking and bicycling routes during event planning.
- Map-a-Route. If there are particular streets that should be avoided but alternate routes exist, create and distribute maps to show walking and bicycling routes.
- Walk AT School. If students live too far away or if conditions around the school do not make it possible to walk or bicycle from any direction, then have an event on the school campus instead.
- Prepare participants with safety education. Student pedestrians and bicyclists can benefit from education about safe skills before the event. Some organizers get help from law enforcement, others have enthusiastic teachers willing to integrate lessons into their classroom or PE time. Drivers near the school may need to be notified about the upcoming event by using the school’s changeable signage, through fliers and other communication channels. Remind them to slow down and yield to walkers and cyclists. If bicycling is part of the event, communications about the event should include a reminder that riders need to wear helmets. Before the event, equip parents with what their families need to know for safe walking and bicycling.
We incorporated bicycle safety with a bike rodeo. We gave away over 100 bike helmets. We took at all-school photo with everyone wearing their bike helmets. The day was full of major fun!
– Event organizer, NM
- Use walkability and bikeability checklists. Before the event, these checklists can be used to get a sense of potential concerns on the routes. If routes are sufficient for walking and bicycling but there’s interest in pushing for further improvements (such as an expansion of safe routes for students who still don’t have a safe option), ask families to use the checklist as part of the event. Past event organizers have tabulated checklist results and had students present them to city leaders as a way to advocate for change.
Beyond the event: Promoting safety every day.
For ongoing safety-related barriers to walking and bicycling, use the event to bring attention to what needs to be done. Having a community leader or transportation official participate in an event is a great way to get their buy-in and commitment to assist with future changes. Read more about making program and infrastructure improvements that go beyond the event.