(CHAPEL HILL, N.C.) December 16, 2011 — Each year, the National Center for Safe Routes to School has the privilege of recognizing one Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program in the country for outstanding achievement in promoting safe walking and bicycling to school. This year - a first in the history of the James L. Oberstar Safe Routes to School Award - two schools will receive this national honor: Heatherwood Elementary School in Boulder, Colo., and Omro Middle School in Omro, Wis.
“Both schools developed comprehensive Safe Routes to School programs to change the commuting culture of students in very different ways,” said Lauren Marchetti, director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School. “Both of this year’s Award recipients are being recognized for developing and implementing successful programs unique to their individual school’s needs. This creativity led to increased walking and bicycling to school at Heatherwood, and a new mindset among Omro students and the community that incorporates active transportation as a way of life.”
At Heatherwood Elementary School, a 2008 parent survey revealed that few students were walking or cycling to school because a rural highway bisects the school’s attendance area. Heatherwood received $235,000 for infrastructure improvements to a crosswalk that spans the highway and $9,000 for education and encouragement activities by Colorado Department of Transportation. This funding, paired with tremendous support for the program from parents and faculty, brought about great change at the school. In just three years, Heatherwood Elementary School’s SRTS efforts and activities resulted in an increase from 12 percent to more than 43 percent of the school’s students regularly walking and bicycling to school.
What stood out most for SRTS Coordinator Amy Thompson was the inclusion of the school’s autistic children in the district-wide Bike to School Day, an effort funded by $1,000 mini-grant from the National Center.
“We took a huge risk trying something that had never been done before, and it turned out beautifully,” said Thompson. “We had lots of parents with tears in their eyes and children who had never been on a bike before not wanting to get off of the tandems.”
In the small, rural city of Omro, about 42 percent of middle school students live within two miles of the school, but many of these students must cross one or more major barriers, including two highways and a river, to get there. As a result, 90 percent of students are eligible for bus service. Despite these challenges, all students, regardless of how they travel to and from school, are exposed to a wide variety of SRTS education and encouragement activities. For instance, Omro Middle School has developed a cycling program using a fleet of more than 35 bicycles that is available to students during Physical Education classes, lunch and special events and trips. The bicycle fleet is maintained by the school’s “Young Mechanics" who are trained high school and middle school students working in a fully tooled bike shop.
“Today we are seeing more and more U.S. cities establishing bike sharing programs, but what is especially impressive about Omro is that the middle school organizes and runs the program itself, rather than a civic or adult organization,” said Marchetti.
In 2009, Wisconsin Department of Transportation awarded $21,054 for the school to complete an SRTS plan, and a total of $101,438 will be authorized for infrastructure activities and to upgrade their bicycle education course.
“The staff at Omro Middle School saw Safe Routes to School as a way to augment physical education years ago at a time when budget cuts reduced the number of weekly physical education classes for students,” said Melissa Kraemer Badtke, Safe Routes to School Coordinator and Associate Planner at East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. “Students are developing a bicycling culture and want to make bicycling their primary mode of transportation to school and to and from their friends’ houses. It fulfills middle school aged students’ wants and desires to become independent.”
The two schools were selected to receive the 2011 Award by a committee comprised of representatives from: the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC), the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and the National Center for Safe Routes to School.
The James L. Oberstar Safe Routes to School Award is given annually for outstanding achievement in implementing a Safe Routes to School program in the United States. The award is named for James L. Oberstar, former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (2007-2011) and former U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 8th Congressional District (1975-2011), to honor his dedication to American schoolchildren as the pioneer for the federal Safe Routes to School Program. Mr. Oberstar sponsored the Safe Routes to School legislation that strives to create safe settings to enable more children and parents to walk and bicycle to school.
The National Center for Safe Routes to School opens a call for applications each year, usually in the fall, and evaluates applications with assistance of an expert panel representing organizations that promote safe walking and bicycling. For more information, visit www.saferoutesinfo.org/data-central/success-stories/safe-routes-to-schoo....
Established in May 2006, the National Center for Safe Routes to School assists states and communities in enabling and encouraging children to safely walk and bicycle to school. The National Center serves as the information clearinghouse for the federal Safe Routes to School program. The organization also provides technical support and resources and coordinates online registration efforts for U.S. Walk to School Day and facilitates worldwide promotion and participation. The National Center is part of the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. For more information, visit www.saferoutesinfo.org.
View this announcement as a PDF: