House Transportation Bill Would Defund Programs to Help Kids Walk to School Safely

Is this the message Congress is sending to kids? (flickr | annshi)
The House Transportation and Infrastructure committee released its transportation bill yesterday, and it’s already been billed “a march of horribles” that would strip funding from public transit, urban improvements for the safety of bikers and pedestrians, and would eliminate Safe Routes to School (SRTS), an effective program dedicated to making it safer for kids to walk and bike to school.

Also on the chopping block is the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program, which includes federally funded projects that improve communities’ transportation options.

So, why should we save these programs?

According to the Alliance for Biking and Walking, bike commuting increased 57 percent between 2000 and 2009. Furthermore, the case for TE and SRTS highlights another way our nation’s health and safety are being threatened. Safe, accessible trails perform a wide range of useful functions, including:

  • Connecting kids to nature, something most kids don’t do on a regular basis
  • Keeping visitors safe on paths through sensitive areas
  • Generating revenue for local economies dependent on visitors and tourism
  • Preserving green spaces in urban areas

My Two Cents

Near my Ohio hometown, even the newest subdivisions are showing signs of neglect as the region faces a weak housing market. For those who live here, car-free living is not an option. Whether it’s going to the grocery store half a mile away, or to school across the highway, everybody is dependent on their car for a safe and convenient trip. Such is sprawl.

More disturbing is the number of kids dashing across busy streets – many lacking sidewalks or crosswalks – on their way to school. I should know, as a kid whose “commute” included, at times, scaling a fence and crossing private property to avoid the busy road. My mom was able to help sometimes, dropping me off at the bus stop, but most other kids don’t have that option. The government has spent billions making sure our cars are safer, but pedestrian deaths, including children, are increasing.

The Health Case

At a time in our history when the current generation of youngsters may not live as long as their parents did due to obesity-related diseased like Type-II Diabetes and heart disease, we cannot afford to make it even more difficult for kids to get  moving outdoors! Walking to school safely should not be a privilege reserved for those lucky enough to live in green neighborhoods. Too many children, our nation’s future innovators, job creators and parents, are in danger during what could be the only time of day they are getting outside.

Rather than strengthening our cities and keeping children safe, this bill is yet another example of the cut-all-but-the-reelection-funders attitude prevailing in the House. The bill extols dirty fossil fuels, saying that sprawl and more drilling for oil and gas is in America’s best interest. Cleaner, efficient transportation is largely ignored or cut. Why would we want a sixty-year-old approach to our 21st century transportation needs?  Not for the good of the kids, that much is clear.

Contact your Representative and tell them keep funding for Safe Routes to School.