Let me share a story with you. On my way to the office a few days ago I had an experience that reinforced my confidence in the future of Safe Routes and made me realize how far we’ve come.
Driving through a residential neighborhood, I came upon a swarm of elementary school children biking to school. The scene at first seemed chaotic, but amid the commotion, safety was everywhere—a pace car leading the group, parents interspersed with the 60 or so children, and enough visible mass to slow any approaching vehicle on this low-speed street.
As I followed, I wondered to myself what was going on. Slowly—very slowly—I rolled a good bit past the peloton and stopped, got out, and approached the pace car that had by now pulled over. “Is this a bike train?” I asked. “Or a Kidical Mass event?” “A kid-i-who-what?” was the puzzled look I got in reply. Turns out parents organized the rolling rally as a protest against a school redistricting plan that would have some neighborhood children moved to a more distant school.
Setting aside the particulars of local school politics, I had a Wow moment. “Good golly!!!” I thought with three exclamation points (if you know me, you know I am normally exclamation-point restrained). “Look how far we’ve come that bikeability would be considered a leverage point for school redistricting.” I couldn’t imagine that I would have witnessed such a scene for a redistricting fight ten years ago.
That makes me optimistic, and there’s more to be optimistic about. Here at the National Center we are moving forward with big plans for the spring of 2013.
First, and furthest beyond, I’m very excited about how plans are coming along for the Safe Routes to School National Conference scheduled for August 13-15 in Sacramento, Calif. The Local Government Commission, a Sacramento-based non-profit consulting group, is leading the effort and is set to make a formal call for presentations beginning January 7 and running through February. Some special features of the conference—youth engagement, a bike share program, and a bike build—have already been identified. Registration will begin in May. Learn more at www.saferoutesconference.org.
Also in May, on Wednesday the 9th, the National Center will be coordinating the second annual Bike to School Day. In addition to our original partners, I’m excited to announce that the Global Roads Safety Partnership and the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) have asked to join us in planning the celebration. All partner organizations are looking forward to building on last year’s success to make Bike to School Day 2013 bigger and better.
A few months ago, back in July, we announced that the National Center had received the one millionth travel data questionnaire from a Safe Routes program. All along since 2006, local programs have been collecting this data, sending it to the National Center, and using their local data to guide planning and give information on how the programs are working. This spring the National Center will crunch those numbers and look for some of the stories behind the numbers.
Finally, I’m looking forward to taking some time to get together with experts in the field and listen to their ideas of the issues for Safe Routes to School moving forward.
This is a time of change for Safe Routes to School, no doubt. I’m optimistic we can all seize the energy of the new opportunities before us, knowing how far we’ve come in the past seven years.