On Wednesday, communities throughout the world will participate in events that highlight the importance of giving children the opportunity to walk or ride their bikes to school. Oct. 5 is International Walk to School Day.
In the 5th District that I represent on the Baltimore County Council, there are two participating communities.
In Perry Hall, students who traditionally ride to school will form “walking school buses” from their homes to Joppa View Elementary School. Our son attends Joppa View Elementary School, and this is the fourth year students have participated in this event.
Joppa View is a classic example of a school built with almost no regard for “walkability.” The school is located next to a busy highway, Honeygo Boulevard, and physically isolated from most surrounding neighborhoods. Children who live across Honeygo Boulevard can’t walk the fifty feet to school; they must take a bus. Earlier this year, Baltimore County installed sidewalks that filled in important gaps between neighborhoods, but there are still many traffic problems that come from the school’s location on a busy highway.
Rodgers Forge in Towson will also sponsor an event on International Walk to School Day. Rodgers Forge is much different than Joppa View. This older, densely-built community is centered on Dumbarton Middle School and Rodgers Forge Elementary School. For the past year, parents have been working to develop a Safe Routes to School program for the community.
It’s important to encourage our children to walk or ride their bicycles to school, to the extent this is safely possible. In the 1960s, more than 70 percent of children walked or biked to school; that has dropped to fewer than 12 percent today. When kids walk or bike to school, they become more physically active. By increasing the percentage of walkers and bikers, we can also reduce traffic jams outside many schools.
Baltimore County is late to this effort. As an example, the county does not apply for Safe Routes to School grants, unlike most jurisdictions in metropolitan Baltimore. There are, however, some promising signs. The Department of Public Works has been filling many sidewalk gaps throughout the county. I am also very happy that the county will soon start its Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, a panel created by the County Council earlier this year.
These are very good signs as we work to make communities friendlier for bicyclists and pedestrians.