What is Active Transportation and Why?

Photograph of Oona Smith
Photograph of Oona Smith

Submitted by: Oona Smith

This piece was originally published in The Community Psychologist (TCP)
Winter 2023 Volume 56 Number 1. All TCP columns are available online, at https://www.scra27.org/publications/tcp/

In the transportation planning “world” in the U.S., a term recently upticking in the vernacular is intersectionality. The addition may have seemed predictable (if not belated) since, for the past few generations, transportation engineers have driven transportation policy and practice with a seemingly singular aim to move cars through roads and intersections. However, transportation practitioners today are using the term “intersectionality” to move transportation planning away from a narrow focus on roadway design. The healthy approach to transportation planning, and in all estimations the only sustainable one, is to pay attention to the intersectionality of our transportation systems and specific desired outcomes: our community health; safety; access; livability, quality of life and quality of neighborhoods; environmental justice; and equity. The desired outcomes for the environment and ecosystems are also vital, but outside the scope of today’s modest column. Table 1 outlines this set of desired outcomes along with examples of car-centric design that currently compromises these outcomes, and contrasting examples of ideal solutions. In addition, a specific example of Safe Routes to Schools is described in detail below (click on the table for a readable copy).

Table 1. Desired Outcomes
Table 1. Desired Outcomes

Active Transportation. Safe Routes to School exemplifies a campaign for active transportation that spread from one city (Odense, Denmark, in the 1970s) to a movement around the globe, sparking initiatives from a single school or classroom on up to international associations. Safe Routes to School (SR2S or SRTS) programs aim to enable students to safely walk, bike, and roll to and from school. SR2S programs in the U.S.A. began in the 1990s. Initially, they were fashioned around the “4 Es” of engineering, education, encouragement, and enforcement. Educators started adding a fifth E for environment. In 2020, responding to insights from the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, educators and advocates deliberated on how endorsing police enforcement for safer streets meant different things in different communities, specifically BIPOC communities. Some organizations decided to omit enforcement as one of the Es. Some SR2S programs include an E for evaluation and/or an E for equity.

Program examples for encouragement include schools participating in International Walk (& Roll) to School Day (first Wednesday in October) or Month (October) by organizing walking school buses and bike buses to school. Recently inaugurated in the USA is Walk to School Day on November 14, also called Ruby Bridges Day, commemorating the day in 1960 when first-grader Ruby

Bridges integrated William Frantz Elementary School. Additional online resources for SR2S may be accessed from the National Center for Safe Routes (saferoutesinfo.org).

For inspiration, please also refer to these stories and video links: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2022/10/11/bike-bus-school-sam-balto/

London has rolled out 350 “School Streets” in just one year: Come see a few up close!



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