What are communities doing to engage children so they help create walkable, bicycle-friendly communities?

The Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program is pioneering innovative ways to include children in planning processes consistent with its overall goal of making walking and bicycling safer and more convenient for children. For more information, visit www.saferoutesinfo.org.

Children can help create a walking school bus (WSB), which simply is a group of kids walking to school with adult supervision. By walking together, kids and adults get much-needed physical activity, enjoy social interaction, and begin incorporating walking and bicycling into their daily routines. Children can point out problems they encounter walking to school, and the adults can help them learn how to correct or avoid those problems. The National Center for Safe Routes to School has developed a walking school bus program guide, which is available on their Web site: http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/guide/walking_school_bus/index.cfm. Or, kids can help start a bike train, the bicycle-focused version of a WSB.

Children can participate with adults in a survey of their neighborhood's bicycling and walking conditions. Sometimes called walkabouts or walking audits, participants use a bikeability or walkability checklist to quantify the relative ease or difficulty of walking or bicycling in a neighborhood and their opinions of the experience. Walkabouts are conducted by a group of people who have a common interest in improving the safety and convenience of walking and bicycling. Children's perspectives are extremely valuable, as their needs and physical abilities can differ considerably from an adult's. For example audits and checklists, visit http://www.walkinginfo.org/problems/audits.cfm and http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/problems/concerns.cfm.

High school students interested in bicycling who also need volunteer service hours can work with law enforcement to host a bicycle rodeo for young children. A bicycle rodeo is a fun, non-competitive event that encourages physical activity, engages kids, and teaches them the valuable skills they need to be safe, courteous cyclists.

Children can learn from and share information with planners and policy makers to help create a more walkable and bicycle-friendly community. Children benefit from understanding what it takes to make a city work and they can help planners and policy makers understand that a community that works for children works for everyone.

With some funding support for disposable cameras, poster board and printing, teachers can invite a photography expert to visit their classrooms to teach children about taking good pictures. A walking or bicycling professional talks with the children about the barriers they face to walking and bicycling to school. Teachers then ask children to take pictures of their trips to and from school. The children can then use those photographs to show adults, such as school board members or city officials, what they would like changed.