As far as I’m aware, schools in Boulder County, Colorado have been the most effective in encouraging children to walk and bike to school through programs funded by State and Federal Safe Routes to School Funding. Some elementary schools in Longmont, Colorado, for example, boast participation rates over 90% on the designated “Walk and Roll” days.
Bear Creek Elementary School in Boulder recently received the James Oberstar Award for excellence in their Safe Routes program achievement. 70% of students walk or bike to school on a year round basis at the school, compared to 25% when the program started two years ago.
“We are trying to create a new culture of daily car-free habits in this young generation,” explains Vivian Kennedy, parent volunteer at Bear Creek Elementary. “A parent’s perception is a dominant factor in molding a child’s thinking, [but ] it’s now a matter of honor and pride for the students.”
Principal Kent Cruger serves as a role model for his students by hosting the Cruger Cup, a year-long challenge issued by the principal himself to his students to arrive at school every day without a car. At the beginning of each month, Mr. Cruger tries a new form of transportation – he has been seen on a foot-powered scooter, a skateboard and a unicycle.
“Although this initiative was initially adult-driven, it has been the students who have taken ownership of their own travel choices and inspired the adults around them,” says Cruger. He’s quick to offer examples. When parents of fifth-graders told their children they would need to drive them to school because of all the gear they needed for an overnight school trip, students suggested carpooling and carrying the gear in bike trailers. And one student who lives five miles across town uses a combination of two buses and walking to get to school.
Bear Creek Elementary students accomplished the school’s goal of “zero cars in the Beak Creek lot” during International Walk to School Day 2008. “The empty parking lot was an astonishing sight – and a testament to how far we’ve come,” says Kennedy. Bear Creek Elementary families are “willing, ready and able to make the Car-Free Commute choice.”
A big part of the program’s success is through the school’s Walking Schoolbus program Bear Creek Elementary families have given the various walking schoolbus routes catchy names such as Darley Dart, Vassar Vroom and Sooper Shuttle.
A City of Boulder study conducted during the first year of the school’s Car-Free Commute program (2007-2008) showed a 36 percent reduction in cars and corresponding traffic congestion. During the program’s second year, students accrued 4,800 miles from 6,600 Car-Free Commute trips in a single month (September 2008).
In surveys about the Car-Free Commute program, parents are saying “My daughter does not want to miss a day!” or “My son refuses to take the car.” Students are inspired by the example set by the adults, and adults are prodded by their children into choosing Car-Free Commute – accounting for the 70 percent sustained participation achieved by the program. “We are trying to create a new culture of daily car-free habits in this young generation,” concludes Kennedy.