By Mark Prado, IJ Reporter
Marin Independent Journal
August 2, 2002

More Marin County students are spending time out of their parents' cars, vans, and sports utility vehicles and are walking and bicycling to school, according to organizers of the Safe Routes to Schools Program.

"It looks like we are steadily increasing the number of children walking and biking to school," said Wendi Kallins, who heads the program, sponsored by the Marin County Bicycle Coalition. "It means our program is working, and it is expanding."

There are plenty of good reasons to get children to walk or bike to school. A county survey showed that while overall school trips represent about 6 percent of Marin's traffic during a 24-hour cycle, between 6 and 9 a.m. school trips account for 21 percent of traffic.

A 2000 study on childhood obesity by the Centers for Disease Control showed two-thirds of students walked or biked to school 30 years ago. Today, the number is fewer than 10 percent.

That number is slowly turning, at least in Marin.

At the end of the recent school year, the number of children walking to school increased from 14 to 23 percent and the number of students biking to school doubled from 7 to 15 percent among schools participating in the program, according to the coalition.

School-related car-pooling also increased from 11 to 21 percent. The coalition said the number of children arriving alone to school in a car decreased from 62 to 38 percent at participating schools.

The figures come at the end of the second year of the Safe Routes to School Program in which 5,115 students from 14 private and public schools in San Rafael, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo, Kentfield, Bolinas and Fairfax participated.

The program has attracted grants including $343, 000 for improvements to a multi-use pathway in Mill Valley and $200, 000 to build new sidewalks in Fairfax as those communities seek to improve routes to schools.

"This is a program that is not only local, but it is a national pilot program, " said Debbie Hubsmith, executive director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition. "People from all over the country are watching what we do."

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