Health topic: Physical Activity Health Promotion

Encourage safe active travel

What's it about?

This strategy aims to make it easy for students to get active on the journey between school and home. It balances two important school health priorities: physical activity and injury prevention. 

When it comes to schools, safe active travel involves:

  • Encouraging human-powered ways of getting to and from school, like walking, biking, skateboarding, rollerblading, or snowshoeing
  • Collaborating across the school community to identify and address safety concerns that might limit ability to participate in active travel

The COVID-19 pandemic has re-energized safe active travel in Alberta. It's seen as a great way to boost daily step counts and spend time outside. It also creates opportunity for social interaction with natural physical distance.

 

What's involved?

A whole school approach to safe and active school travel involves coordinated action on five “Es:" engineering, education, engagement, enforcement, and evaluation. Be sure to follow routine public health practices and guidance from your school authority as you bring these actions to life.

   

Engineering

Engineering approaches use design and infrastructure to make active travel routes to school accessible and safe. Proven engineering strategies include:

  • Marked crosswalks in the area surrounding the school
  • Well-lit sidewalks, pathways and trails, with designated activity spaces (e.g., marked bike lanes)
  • Storage racks in visible locations for bikes, scooters, skateboards, and other wheels
  • Designated drop-off zones (sometimes a short distance from school property)
  • Parking restrictions in the area surrounding the school
  • Speed limits

For more on engineering approaches to safe active travel, check out this list of elementary road safety interventions, or the Vision Zero infographic from Parachute Canada.

Education

Education explains the benefits of active travel, and helps build confidence to do it safely. Here are some practical actions you can take:

  • Provide students and families maps of preferred routes to school, with marked road crossings and drop-off zones.
  • Teach younger students how to safely cross the street, and older students to avoid distractions while they travel in active ways—devices down, earbuds out, heads up!
  • Use school communication channels—like e-newsletters, websites, and social media—to connect with adults about how they can role model safe active travel.
  • Support or promote local programs that build skills for active travel, like cycling skills.
  • Teach students that a properly-fitting helmet can reduce the risk of injury when traveling by bike, scooter, or skateboard—try tools like the Bike Helmet YES! Test. 

The Active and safe routes to school teachers’ kit from Ontario is packed with education activities you can adapt for your Alberta classroom or school.

Engagement

Engaging the broader school community creates a vibrant culture around safe active travel. Here are some Alberta examples, adapted for life at school during the COVID-19 pandemic. Be sure to follow health measures as you roll-out these types of activities.

  • Student leadership programs that promote road safety, like the AMA School Safety Patrol
  • Safe active travel events like Wheel Week and Winter Walk Day, or less formal activities like community walks during instructional time
  • Community efforts to clean up garbage or graffiti, install outdoor student artwork, and use green spaces to make active travel routes more inviting
  • Family-led or school-led efforts to get students moving within their family bubble or school cohort, like walking buddy programs, walking school buses, or bike trains
  • Family forums and other engagement techniques aimed at making active travel more inclusive, accessible, and appealing

Let’s face it—active travel to school isn’t always an option.

Students who ride a school bus or other vehicle to school can take part in active travel with a simple ride and stride program—walking a short distance (like a lap around school property) before starting the day.

Enforcement

Enforcement promotes traffic laws and responsible driving behavior, especially in school zones. Reach out to enforcement partners in your local area to try these key strategies:

  • Electronic speed monitoring devices
  • Having law enforcement professionals present in school zones (from time-to-time)
  • Having crossing guards present at times of heavy traffic, including those in a formal role, designated school staff, parent volunteers, or student patrollers

 

Evaluation

Evaluation helps to figure out what’s working when it comes to safe active travel, and what can be improved. For example, you can:

  • Track how students get to and from school with an online platform like BikeWalkRoll.org
  • Observe and document vehicle traffic in the school area
  • Survey students and families to better understand reasons for using active travel (or not), and to generate solutions

 

How it connects

Safe and active travel to and from school increases the number of steps students take in a day. It may also reduce vehicle traffic in the school area, which can reduce the risk of transportation-related injury.

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