Submitted by La Mesa Safe Routes to School:
The City of La Mesa’s Safe Routes to School program aims to increase the number of students who are safely walking and biking to school in order to improve their health, the health of the environment and neighborhood safety.
The program emphasizes community involvement and participation from all age groups including students, parents and older adult volunteers.
The City of La Mesa partnered with the County of San Diego Aging and Independence Services, MetLife Foundation and Partners for Livable Communities last year to create a unique intergenerational component to the La Mesa Walk-n-Roll program. La Mesa Walk-n-Roll encourages older adults to volunteer their time being the “Eyes on the Streets” while becoming more active in their communities.
“Older adult volunteers are crucial to sustaining our Safe Routes to School program,” said Misty Thompson, La Mesa Safe Routes to School Coordinator. “We need those extra eyes on the streets to help monitor neighborhoods and deter unsafe behaviors. It helps create a greater sense of community when we see students, parents and older adults interacting together on their way to and from school.”
The La Mesa Walk-n-Roll program needs 75 older adult volunteers for the entirety of the 2012-2013 school year. La Mesa Walk-n-Roll volunteers commit one to two hours of their time each week to monitor school neighborhoods, provide pedestrian and bicycle safety tips, and deter unsafe behaviors as students walk or bike to and from school.
In 1969, approximately 50 percent of children walked or biked to school, while less than 15 percent of students do so today. Leah Stender, Program Manager for WalkSanDiego, a partner with the La Mesa Safe Routes to School program and non-profit organization dedicated to making walking a safe and viable choice, said,
“The number of kids walking and biking to school has greatly decreased over the years. And in correlation, the number of students with obesity issues and overweight issues has increased alarmingly,” Stender said.
“One of the things from the district perspective that the walk to school initiative is doing for us is really promoting that overall healthy and safe lifestyle,” said Brian Marshall, Superintendent.
Seven of the eight participating schools within the City of La Mesa currently have daily, weekly or monthly walking and biking to school programs. In the three years the Safe Routes to School program has been in operation, 75 percent of the participating schools have increased numbers of children walking to school, and nearly 40 percent have increased the number of students biking to school.
“Safe Routes to School is important for addressing the health issues we see going on, but it’s also important to address the issues we have with our communities,” said Stender. “Our communities have been planned to be very car-oriented. Now we’re seeing that may not have been the best thing. We’re really coming back to a pedestrian-focused, bicycle-focused way of planning our communities.”
Multiple infrastructural changes have been made surrounding several La Mesa schools to support safe walking and biking. Changes include curb extensions, raised crosswalks, islands in the middle of the street and pedestrian countdowns.
To learn more about the Safe Routes to School program, or to apply to become a La Mesa Walk-n-Roll volunteer, contact Misty Thompson at (619) 667-1319 or email SRTS@ci.la-mesa.ca.us.