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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Participates in International Walk to School Day

Annual Event Promotes Safe Routes to School Program and Encourages Healthy Lifestyles

WASHINGTON – At an event celebrating International Walk to School Day, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined elementary school students in Silver Spring, Maryland today to showcase the federal ”Safe Routes to School” (SRTS) program and to highlight First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative.  Secretary LaHood, joined by Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, escorted students to East Silver Spring Elementary School to encourage children nationwide to walk and bike safely to school.

“The Safe Routes to School program helps ensure that children have a safe way to walk or bike to school,” said Secretary LaHood.  “It’s important that we provide students with options on how to get to school, while promoting exercise and healthy lifestyles.”

The Safe Routes to School program ties in with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative, which seeks to increase physical activity among an increasingly sedentary generation of children. One out of every three children is now overweight or obese, which increases their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer as they get older. The Safe Routes to School program seeks to reverse this trend and provide children with safe and healthy options for getting to and from school every day.

SRTS Program

The SRTS program provides money to help communities enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school; to make walking and bicycling to school safe and more appealing; and to facilitate the planning, development and implementation of projects that will improve safety, and reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution in the vicinity of schools.  At least 6,489 schools nationwide are participating in the program.  Over $776 million has been available for the program since 2005.

The Maryland State Highway Administration awarded $453,700 to the City of Takoma Park, Maryland, over four grant years.  This money was provided by the Federal Highway Administration.  A portion of these funds supports the SRTS program at East Silver Spring Elementary School.  The City of Takoma Park SRTS program has provided funding for activities that East Silver Spring has participated in, such as bike rodeos and a year-long walking program, an annual 5K race, and SRTS educational materials and bike helmets.

More than 3,100 schools in the United States participated in Walk to School Day this year.  In 2009, more than 3,368 schools from all 50 states participated in Walk to School Day.  East Silver Spring was the first school in Montgomery County to hold a Walk to School Day celebration in 1999, and was a pilot school for the federal SRTS program ten years ago.

The 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), a U.S. Department of Transportation effort to collect data on travel by the American public, reports 13 percent of children five to 14 years old usually walked or biked to school compared with 48 percent of students in 1969. Conversely, 12 percent of children arrived at school by private automobile in 1969, and, by 2009, this number increased to 44 percent. While long-term trends demonstrate a decline in walking and bicycling to school, preliminary analysis of 2009 NHTS travel data reveals the percent of five-through 14-year olds walking and bicycling to school in the U.S. has remained stable at about 12 percent over the last 15 years.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010