Walk to School Day builds support for Safe Routes to School in Kauai

Sometimes, one day can turn into something much bigger.

In Kauai, Hawaii, a Walk to School Day event at Kapa’a Elementary School boosted community support for a full-fledged Safe Routes to School program. The community was concerned about traffic as well as childhood and adolescent obesity. In 2009-2010, the school was selected to serve as a pilot school for a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program.

Initially, efforts to implement the SRTS program faced a sizeable challenge. To increase safety for student pedestrians and bicyclists, the 850-student school needed traffic-calming measures and increased visibility in the area surrounding the school. However, residents wanted the island to keep its rural character and worried that too many infrastructure changes would diminish that community asset, explained Jennifer Linton Bloom, Kauai SRTS coordinator. Policy changes were needed to develop a Complete Streets policy (to support street design inclusive of all transportation modes), she said, and organizers understood it would be critical to obtain buy-in from school and community leaders so that a SRTS program could be successful at every school.

The First Step: Walk to School Day

To increase awareness of the issues surrounding Safe Routes to School programs and to promote walking and bicycling to school, the school held its first Walk to School Day.

In conjunction with the event, the school organized a walking school bus. Parents dropped off students at a designated location in Kapa'a to participate in the walking school bus, which also included officers from the Kauai Police Department, City Council members, the mayor, the school superintendent, parents, teachers and community members. Other students joined the walking school bus along the way, for a total of approximately 150 children.

When the students arrived at school, they enjoyed healthy snacks and entered to win a bike provided by Kauai Cycles and Tours. The winner was announced on the school’s morning announcements, and the Mayor delivered the bike to the winning student in class. The winner was also announced on a local radio station.

After the Event: Greater Change Through Safe Routes to School

The success of Walk to School Day built excitement around SRTS. Program coordinators planned a walking school bus for monthly "Walking Wednesdays" at Kapa'a Elementary.  They also partnered with Get Fit Kauai, the Nutrition and Physical Activity Coalition of Kauai County; the County of Kauai; the Hawaii Department of Education; and the Kauai Police Department to further build their SRTS program. The goals of the program were:

  1. to increase the number of kids safely walking and biking to school, and
  2. to improve safe routes to school through infrastructure and policy changes.

In support of these goals, the SRTS program sponsored many education and outreach activities to improve student safety and community health awareness. At the school, daily morning announcements included bike/pedestrian safety education, and members of the PTSA and community attended educational workshops. Organizers worked with the Kauai Police Department and local media to conduct a “Slow Down in School Zones” media campaign.

The program also aimed to increase the size of the school zone. The Task Force developed a PowerPoint presentation with pictures from a walking assessment conducted at Kapa’a Elementary and suggested changes in signage and stenciling to improve the area. Moving forward, the SRTS Task Force is working with the Department of Public Works to address infrastructure concerns.

After participating in Walk to School Day and recognizing that changes were needed, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. budgeted $100,000 for the design and permit of a safe, walkable route for students of Kapa’a Elementary School and nearby St. Catherine’s School, which would include sidewalks, improved pedestrian road shoulder areas, crosswalks and signage.

The County of Kauai and Maui together were awarded a $3.4 million “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” grant in March 2010 for obesity prevention, and some of that funding was slated to be applied to SRTS non-infrastructure programs.  This grant enabled Kauai to hire a SRTS coordinator and provided for more education, encouragement and small engineering changes.

The SRTS program is continuing through the Research Center at the University of Hawaii, Healthy Hawaii Initiative and Get Fit Kauai.  Funding from UH will provide a part-time coordinator, incentives, educational outreach and media campaigns. 

Meanwhile, the program continues to expand. In the past two years, three other schools have joined the SRTS program on Kauai and participated in the monthly Walk to School days that were held on the fourth Wednesday of every month (excluding December) during the 2011-2012 school year.  Resulting from the increase in exposure of the SRTS program, organizers have created infrastructure plans to improve safety around seven schools: Kilauea, Kapaa, St. Catherine’s, Wilcox, King Kamaulii, Kalaheo, and Koloa. 

Jennifer Linton Bloom, MPH, ATC
Kauai SRTS Coordinator and President ESP Wellness, LLC