In Illinois, schools are required to provide bus transportation to their students who live more than 1.5 miles from school.
Schools are also required to bus children who live less than 1.5 miles from school but lack a safe walking route -- a program is known as hazard busing.
The task of determining whether or not a route is hazardous is left up to the individual school boards, but the Illinois State Board of Education provides guidelines to help.
The hazards they look for in each school include children walking on a roadway, walking along a roadway without a sidewalk, crossing busy intersections, crossing railroad tracks and the potential for violent crime.
When schools use hazard busing for their students, the state must reimburse the school for the costs of the program. In Illinois, hazard busing costs the state tens of millions of dollars every year, and that cost is rising rapidly. In fact, in the last seven years, the cost of hazard busing has increased by 67 percent.
On top of all of this, a larger proportion of students require hazard busing every year. While overall school enrollment in Illinois declines by about 2 percent each year, the number of students enrolling in hazard busing programs increases by 1 percent.
This is where Safe Routes to School comes in.
The Safe Routes to School program can serve individual schools and provides funding to build the kind of infrastructure that can eliminate the dangers that prevent kids from walking and biking to school.
By building new sidewalks and walkways to keep kids away from traffic and rail crossings, schools can make their surrounding neighborhoods safer for kids and save themselves money in the long term.
With Illinois’ budget stretched thin and schools struggling financially, Safe Routes to School programs can create real changes in a school’s environment, and help them save money.
What can you do to help spread the word about the importance of walking and biking to school? Tell Active Trans about how kids in your neighborhood walk and bike to school. You can also tell your personal story by using #SafeRoutesIL to share photos and stories with your community and Active Trans.
This blog post was written by former Active Trans intern, Lauren Dean.