News

Active, Healthy, Ready to Learn (and Fighting Climate Change) with Safe Routes to School

Posted by Mary Skelton Roberts

Mary Skelton RobertsIn its climate work, Barr is committed to helping Boston and Massachusetts meet or exceed their targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and become national models for reducing GHG emissions. To do this, we focus on two of the largest emissions sources: buildings and transportation. I oversee Barr’s investments related to transportation. When people ask me what this means, I say that it is about making it easier for people to get out of their cars. This is easier said than done in a country where we love our cars so much, and where we’ve grown and developed in ways that have left many dependent on cars for almost all their transportation needs.

But it turns out there are many ways, big and small, to help places and communities become places where getting into a car is, less and less, the only way, or even the preferred way to get around. One such effort I’ve been thrilled to support is WalkBoston’s Safe Routes to School Program.

In 1969, about half of all American children walked or biked to school. Of those who lived within a mile from school, 87% of children walked or biked. Today, less than 15% do. This has enormous implications not only for reducing vehicle emissions and morning gridlock, but also for children’s health and readiness to learn. WalkBoston has been working on this issue since 2001, when it piloted a first Safe Routes to School Program in Arlington, a Boston suburb. This program was so successful that it spread to other communities in Metro Boston. Meanwhile Safe Routes to School has become a national and even international movement – with many states and localities trying to figure out how and where to implement these approaches.

One of the first grants I recommended after Barr set its climate strategy in 2010 was to WalkBoston. Part of their proposal was to design an analytical framework that could help states identify communities with the highest potential for changing travel patterns of students who live close to schools. When WalkBoston applied this new tool to Metro Boston, the communities that rose to the top were Lawrence, Malden, and Revere.

Historically, Safe Routes to Schools has found ardent supporters in the environment and health communities, but less so among educators. That dynamic is changing, however, thanks to WalkBoston, and to Safe Routes to Schools champions like Ann Marie, former Deputy Superintendent in Revere, Massachusetts, who is featured in a great new short film called, “Revere Walks.” Check it out…