Stillwater resident Don Norvelle has a suggestion for how to address the traffic, parking and safety problems that arise when parents drive their children to and from school: Create safe programs that encourage the children to walk or ride a bike instead.

The great thing about this solution, he says, is it would also help with several other problems that are plaguing our country – high gas prices, pollution and childhood obesity.

Norvelle, a member of the Oklahoma Bicycling Coalition and lifelong cyclist who habitually rode his bike to work at OSU until his retirement in 2000, has ridden across the United States four times. Now he’s working as the Oklahoma representative for a $612 million national Safe Routes to School program. Approved by Congress in 2005, SRTS provides funding to all 50 states and the District of Columbia for education and enforcement programs and infrastructure projects such as building sidewalks and bike paths.

The money will be distributed through a competitive grants program. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has announced that Oct. 1 will be the official opening of the grant application period for Oklahoma’s Safe Routes to School program. ODOT will also sponsor a Walk and Bike to School Day on Oct. 3 to build public awareness and inspire Oklahoma schools and communities to encourage students to walk or ride bikes. While supplies last, ODOT will ship banners, posters and other promotional items to registered schools.

To obtain information or supplies, schools can contact Ernestine Mbroh, Safe Routes to School program director, at embroh@ODOT.org or (405) 522-3570.

According to SRTS, the percentage of U.S. students who walk and/or bicycle to school has declined from approximately 50 percent in 1969 to only 15 percent today, while obesity rates have increased dramatically among children of all ages.

“More than 33 percent of children and adolescents – approximately 25 million kids – are overweight or obese,” according to SRTS. In addition, it points out, traffic congestion caused by parents driving their children to and from school is a substantial problem in many communities.

Norvelle is working to form an SRTS committee in Stillwater, which would include representatives from the city, police, schools and Neighborhood Watch organizations, to help educate the community to the possibilities and promote the program.

“In Stillwater, the program would be aimed at kindergarten through fifth grade,” he says, acknowledging that transporting students across town to the middle school, junior high and high school could be more problematic.

The program would include safety education for walkers and bikers and would encourage the installation of crosswalk guards at all schools. Another safety alternative is to form “chains” of children who walk or bike together. Younger children can be accompanied by adult volunteers.

“I live near the Stillwater Country Club, and I see people walking around the golf course for exercise all the time,” Norvelle says. “Some of them drive their children to school and then come home to exercise. We want to encourage them to walk with their children, instead. An average 6-year-old child can walk a mile in 20 minutes or ride a bike two miles in 20 minutes.”

The SRTS Web site (www.saferoutespartnership.org) provides contacts to proponents at all levels, along with the resources to implement programs locally and statewide. Other features include an interactive U.S. map that allows users to access pages for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, a robust search function, updated national SRTS news, in-depth policy pages, event listings and a submit-a-story form.

The site is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (www.rwjf.org) and the Bikes Belong Coalition (www.bikesbelong. org).

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