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About one-third of all work trips in Chicago are comprised of people biking, walking or riding public transit.

Governor signs biking and walking safety ed. bill

Every day in Illinois, five kids on average are hit by a driver of a motor vehicle within one block of a school, and more are hit beyond the school zones.

A bill that helps address this tragic daily occurrence while encouraging more walking and biking was recently signed into law by Governor Rauner.

The Bike Walk Education in Schools Act (HB4799) requires K-8 schools to provide biking and walking safety education. Illinois’ School Code requires automobile safety education, but currently there isn’t a requirement for providing instruction on how to bike and walk safely.

This bill is an important step forward in making Illinois a better place for kids to bike and walk.

Over the past thirty years, childhood obesity has tripled in the U.S. and Illinois ranks ninth in the nation in obese adolescents ages 10 to 17. Walking and biking safely helps kids get more physical activity, reducing the risk of obesity and promoting good overall health.

State Rep. Sonya Harper (6th District, Back of the Yards), the bill’s lead sponsor in the State House, told Active Trans “getting more kids biking and walking improves the health and sustainability of communities in the 6th district and across Illinois. This law will help ensure more kids are traveling safely as they move about their neighborhoods.”

Biking and walking to school not only enhances children’s health, these activities help them perform better in school on average. Traveling to school by foot or bike also gives parents more free time and cuts down on traffic congestion.

State Sen. Mattie Hunter (3rd District, Bronzeville), the bill’s lead sponsor in the State Senate, said “transportation is about more than driving cars and our schools could be doing more to promote safe biking and walking. This law will introduce more Illinois kids to the joys of traveling on foot and on bike.”

Thank you to the hundreds of supporters and partner organizations who contacted their legislators in support of the bill.

Surveys indicate that walking and biking to school has been steadily decreasing since the 1970s. Although most schools provide no meaningful biking and walking safety education, many others are trailblazers that have adopted a variety of free or low-cost encouragement and safety programs to help reverse the decline, usually as part of health class or PE, as well as through events like Walk and Bike to School Day. Their programs draw upon materials created by organizations with expertise in walking and biking, including on-line quizzes and videos to guide books with a checklist of teaching points and lesson plans.

More ambitious programs include on-bike education at the schools. Under HB 4799, K-8 school boards will have the flexibility to choose their own approach.

Active Transportation Alliance staff and partners have decades of experience working with districts and schools interested in incorporating biking and walking safety education into their instruction. Active Trans has compiled a resource list of materials for teaching biking and walking safety to children that it will share with school districts across the state while also working with the Illinois Association of School Boards to develop a model policy in the coming weeks.