For many of us, walking is our first mode of transportation, but as driving in personal vehicles has become more common, our appreciation for that original movement has fallen away. When we walk (or roll, for folks who use chairs or mobility devices), we breathe fresh air and get a little exercise. We notice the neighbor’s thriving marigolds and wave at the mail carrier. Moving slowly through our neighborhood, we get to know our community. We experience connections in ways that just aren’t possible when we zip by in a car. This sort of mobility is vital to vibrant communities– people must feel safe and welcome on our sidewalks, and the more they walk or roll, the more value they will find in their neighborhoods.
One way we can reclaim the joy of walking is by instilling the habit into our children. Just last week, schools across the metro celebrated Walk to School Day. BikeWalkKC, with partners at the MidAmerica Regional Council, LiveWell Johnson County, KC Healthy Kids, Rosedale Development Association, Safe Kids Johnson County, schools and school districts, as well as countless advocates throughout the region asked families to trade the drop-off line for the sidewalk for just one day. Schools used the occasion to promote walking safety and active families, encouraging parents to walk with their children.
Some schools, like Hazel Grove and Midland Trail in KCK, take the idea year-round with a regular Walking School Bus program. Students meet volunteers or school staff at a designated intersection and walk, bike, or roll to school as a group. Areiona King, Wyandotte County Safe Routes to School Coordinator at BikeWalkKC, says that Walk to School Day is a fun event to promote active lifestyles, but it stops short of creating lasting healthy habits: “When time scheduled for PE classes and recess activity shortens, our kiddos still have energy that needs to be released, so that they can better concentrate in the classroom. Staying active by walking to school regularly is a great habit to adopt.”
More walking creates better walking conditions. In her work with schools in KCK, Areiona has seen that, “Walking School Bus groups that walk to and from school together at least once a week are shifting the active living culture in their schools and neighborhoods, in a very simple way.” Regular pedestrian activity in a neighborhood creates demand for better sidewalks, crosswalks, and street lights. It reduces the likelihood of abandoned and blighted buildings. “Neighborhood residents that are home during the day enjoy coming outside to wave at the kids. Principals have reported that the adult presence while walking home has helped cut down on bullying instances. One champion educates the students with a Word of the Day, such as perseverance and gratitude. Another champion admitted that until she began walking with the students, she had no idea the type of neighborhood environment that these students go home to. All of these small examples are creating a stronger and safer community for our students,” reports Areiona. These school programs demonstrate that walking brings communities together in a spirit of neighborliness that suffers when people spend their time most of their time indoors or in vehicles.
Take a walking or rolling tour of your neighborhood this weekend. Use all of your senses– how does your perception of where you live change when you slow down? How does the crisp fall air feel in your lungs? Are there broken or missing sections of sidewalk? How long is the walk to services like a bus stop or a grocery store? Are the leaves crunching under your feet? Think about how you can take action to create better conditions for walking and rolling in your community– we can help!
For more information on Safe Routes to School and Walking School Buses, head to our Education page. We can also help you set up a traffic-calming demonstration in your neighborhood! And if you need to report a broken sidewalk or missing ADA ramp, contact your local city services such as 311 in KCMO, 311 in WYCO/KCK, OPCares in Overland Park, and Municipal Services in Lenexa.