Sometimes starting small makes sense. Instead of trying to inundate the city of Cape Girardeau, MO, with a wide range of Safe Routes to School (SRTS) activities, Dr. Mark Langenfeld, a professor in the department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation at Southeast Missouri State University, focused on organizing a Walk to School Day at Alma Schrader Elementary School, and the event received tremendous publicity.
In October 2005, approximately one-third of the students at Alma Schrader Elementary walked to school on International Walk to School Day. Students met at Dennis Scivally Park, located four-tenths of a mile from the school, and the city manager and other city officials joined the students on the walk. “It was successful beyond what I ever had hoped for,” said Langenfeld, who focused his efforts on the neighborhood elementary school where his daughters had attended several years ago.
“We’ve done it on a zero budget,” he said, but he added police were on hand for traffic control, and the school was never billed for their time. In addition to educating the students, the walk showed city officials first-hand the location of missing or inadequate sidewalks. Fortunately, the City still had transportation funds available. City officials responded quickly to the situation, and by 2006, those sidewalks had been installed.
City officials in Cape Girardeau installed sidewalks along the school frontage property and on several blocks in each direction, he said, as well as along three city blocks down to the city park. And the students have been walking ever since, completing annual walks in 2006 and 2007. In May 2008, Alma Schrader added a spring walk, too, and more than 100 of the 310 children participated.
“It’s already beginning to expand itself,” Langenfeld said of the program, noting that the frequent walks to school help it become part of the students’ routine. “It starts to become more natural.”
Cape Girardeau, a city in the rural area with a population of 40,000, already had established a commitment to providing sidewalks in the community. In 1998, city officials passed a sidewalk ordinance requiring new subdivisions to install sidewalks. Since then, they have retrofitted two subdivisions, and all elementary schools have sidewalks. When Langenfeld’s family moved to Cape Girardeau, he chose his house so he could bicycle to work and noted, “We purposely bought a house close enough to walk to school.” His three daughters enjoyed it, he said, and they still share fond memories of walking to school with their father. “I count myself so lucky — the city leadership really wants to increase both walking and bicycling access,” Langenfeld said.
It was successful beyond what I ever hoped for,” Langenfeld said of International Walk to School Day at Alma Schrader Elementary. In 2007, the city in conjunction with its school system received a $102,919 SRTS infrastructure grant from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to install uniform safety signage and flashing beacons at eight different schools throughout the city. Like other communities, many people live near enough to walk to school, but two-worker families may believe it’s more convenient to drive and drop off, Langenfeld said.
In some cases, there is a perception that it’s dangerous to walk because the feeder streets built during post World War II construction don’t have sidewalks, he added. To address some of those concerns, Langenfeld co-wrote a SRTS grant proposal for a $10,220 grant to initiate a Walking School Bus program at the school. The plan is to launch two routes that initially would operate on Wednesdays, Langenfeld said. Community volunteers will lead the walking school buses and pick up students along the way. Langenfeld worked with the school and the local Safe Communities coordinator to apply to MoDOT for a SRTS grant that would provide funds for background checks for the walking school bus “drivers,” as well as provide T-shirts, safety vests and incentives to participants.
Due to the success at Alma Schrader, Langenfeld was invited to an international conference on obesity in Australia where he highlighted the goals of the International Walk to School movement and explained the local success in Cape Girardeau. “As I met with people from several different countries, they were, first of all, amazed that a federal government would provide money to trickle down — they were just astounded,” he said, adding that they also were impressed that so much was accomplished in one year.
Dr. Mark Langenfeld
Professor in the Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation
Southeast Missouri State University
Phone: (573) 651-2461