Every day in Illinois, five kids are hit by a car while within one block of a school.
Unsafe streets keep kids across the state from walking and biking, cutting them off from the health, economic, and academic benefits of increased physical activity.
On March 2, our team participated in a walk audit in Springfield to compare and contrast safe routes to school with areas that may have difficult passageways.
We found narrow sidewalks next to heavy traffic, sidewalk obstructions and dangerous railroad crossings.
But we also found complete streets that were comfortable to walk on for people of all ages and abilities.
Doing a walk audit (or walk assessment) allows opportunities to discover what does and does not make a safe route to school.
Enabling and encouraging children to walk and bike to school is a wonderful opportunity to help kids grow into independent travelers in the world around them.
Every community has different needs. A walk audit is a simple but effective way to find out what your neighborhood needs most.
Here is a handy guide for how you can set up your own event in your district.
- Research local organizations. Find out who is already involved with improving biking and walking in your area. The more members of your coalition, the stronger the support and outreach will be. Check out our resource that will help you find community leaders in Chicago and the suburbs.
- Map out a route. Decide as a team the area of town, the specific school and the route to that school to focus on. Local municipal transportation staff can help devise a route as well. It is a good idea to find a route that has both hazardous streets as well as a complete and comfortable street with amenities that can be recreated elsewhere. Do a walkthrough before the event so you know what to expect when leading the tour. If appropriate, invite students to walk or bike along and give them a chance to share their perspectives.
- Reach out to state representatives and senators. Tell them why this issue is so important to you, a constituent in their district, and how focusing on this issue will make their district a safer place to live. Find your state representatives here.
- Invite members of the press. Once you have set up a route and coordinated with the school and have a set time and date, contact local media. Radio, television, and newspapers are all great, but don’t forget any online blogs with a hyperlocal presence. The more coverage you can get for the event, the more effective you will be spreading the word on this important issue.
- Execute the event. With all the planning finished, it’s time for the main event. When walking the route, make sure to point out what is good about a street, or what needs work. At stoplights and intersections, you can ask the group how they feel walking along the street on a scale of 1-5. Think outside the box: not everything is infrastructure related. Consider how safer routes to school will put more eyes on the street that can in turn make neighborhoods safer. Even simple programs like cleaning up trash or debris can encourage walking.
- Document the event. Live tweeting with a hashtag is a great way to document the event in real time. Take photos or video. Likewise, stay in touch with the media and share on your social networks what they post. Also share any documentation from fellow campaign member organizations. The more documentation of these walk audits available, the more other people will be encouraged to host an event of their own.
For more information about how to join the Safe Routes for Healthy Kids Campaign, visit www.activetrans.org/saferoutes and make sure to send a letter to your state representative to ask them to support our bill to improve biking and walking near schools! And use #SafeRoutesIL to connect with the campaign online.
For more information on how to host a walk audit, visit the national Safe Routes to School website.
This post was written by Active Trans advocacy intern Andrew Hertzberg.