Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Model Safe Routes to School Program

Parents at Bear Creek Elementary School in Boulder, Colo., are leading students and the entire school community into life-changing choices. The Car-Free Commute program at the school, only in its second year, has succeeded in engaging 70 percent of students in walking and bicycling to school consistently throughout the school year.
Bear Creek Elementary is an open enrollment school, which means a percentage of families opt in from outside the neighborhood and do not have school bus service. But 67 percent of students live within two miles of the school. Still, before Safe Routes to School, only 25 percent of students were walking or bicycling to school - most were being driven in the family car.

“A parent’s perception is a dominant factor in molding a child’s thinking,” observes Vivian Kennedy, parent volunteer and mother of three. Bear Creek’s SRTS program has effectively informed and encouraged students, who have in turn, helped facilitate parent participation.
“It’s a matter of honor and pride for the students,” says Kennedy. The school’s encouragement programs are moving away from prizes and focusing on innate pride in commuting choices. Through monthly tallies and public recognition, Bear Creek student’s efforts are recognized daily in the classroom and in prominent displays and events throughout the school.

Principal Kent Cruger serves as a role model for his students by hosting the Cruger Cup, a year-long challenge issued by the principal himself to his students to arrive at school every day without a car. At the beginning of each month, Mr. Cruger tries a new form of transportation — he has been seen on a foot-powered scooter, a skateboard and a unicycle, and regularly car pools with other area principals to school district meetings.

Bear Creek Elementary students accomplished the school’s goal of “zero cars in the Beak Creek lot” during International Walk to School Day 2008. “The empty parking lot was an astonishing sight — and a testament to how far we’ve come,” says Kennedy. Bear Creek Elementary families are “willing, ready and able to make the Car-Free Commute choice.”

A City of Boulder study conducted during the first year of Bear Creek’s Car-Free Commute program (2007- 2008) showed a 36 percent reduction in cars and corresponding traffic congestion. During the program’s second year, students accrued 4,800 miles from 6,600 Car-Free Commute trips in a single month (September 2008). As a whole, the school’s culture is changing from motor-powered to foot-powered transportation. In surveys about the Car-Free Commute program, parents are saying “My daughter does not want to miss a day!” or
“My son refuses to take the car.” Students are inspired by the example set by the adults, and adults are prodded by their children into choosing Car-Free Commute — accounting for the 70 percent sustained participation achieved by the program. “We are trying to create a new culture of daily car-free habits in this young generation,” concludes Kennedy.

For more resources and information on Safe Routes to School, please visit the National Center for Safe Routes to School Web site at

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