Safe Routes to School programs began in Europe in the 1970s. In the U.S., efforts to promote walking to school emerged in the late 1990s. Initial and ongoing successes led to strong national enthusiasm, inspiring Congress to establish a federal Safe Routes to School program in 2005.
In 1969, almost half of American students walked or bicycled to school. But that number has shrunk to a mere 13%. Physical activity and recreational opportunities in schools have decreased during the same time period, creating new challenges for students’ academic achievement, cognitive skills, behavior, and attitudes. The overall decrease in daily physical activity corresponds with a dramatic increase in childhood obesity that has resulted in a nationwide health epidemic.
The growing Safe Routes to School movement has become popular with numerous stakeholders, bringing together policymakers, government officials, school administrators, teachers, non-profits, businesses, parents, and students. All stakeholders can play important roles in initiating, running, and sustaining Safe Routes to School programs, as well as developing policies to maximize desired outcomes.