Safe Routes to School :: Practice and Promise
Promising Practices -
From Whom Can We Learn?
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Chapter Four
  Arlington Boston, Massachussette  








Arlington's Safe Routes To School program (SR2S) program was started in 2000 by the National Park Service's Rivers and Trails Program in coordination with Walk Boston. Arlington (population 42,389) is an older suburb of Boston (population 589,141) that was developed before World War II. The project started with three schools in Arlington. During the first year, two schools in Boston were added. City and suburb are both densely populated, and neighborhoods are considered walkable. However, many lifestyles do not lend themselves to walking to school, and schools in both cities actively discourage cycling. This SR2S project concentrated on community education, as well as parent and student encouragement efforts, believing these to be the greatest needs. Numerous strategies and activities encouraged thousands of parents and children to get involved, resulting in substantial gains in the number of Arlington children walking to school. By comparison, changes in Boston were much smaller.

crosswalk guard leads a walking bus across intersection

Description of Efforts

  • Sponsored Walk to School Days, a six-week Step into Spring walking contest, led neighborhood walks with classes, developed walking games and activities, conducted a “walking school bus” week, and gave children pedometers so they could measure how far they walked.
  • Produced six SR2S newsletters that showcased crossing guards, students, and parents who regularly walked; newsletters included photographs and walking activities.
  • Hired parents of students at participating schools as SR2S coordinators to work 10-15 hours per week.
  • Emphasized the fun aspects of walking, avoiding messages that focused on negative concerns such as overweight children.
  • Recruited parents at PTA meetings and through informal networks such as SR2S coordinators “talking up” the program daily with parents as they arrived at school with their children.
  • Worked with town councils on ways to make routes to school safer.
  • Promoted the use of public transit, in conjunction with walking, for middle school age children.


  • In the two elementary schools in Arlington that participated in SR2S, the percentage of students walking to school increased from a baseline of 42 percent to a current rate of 56 percent. At the participating middle school in Arlington, walking to school increased from 19 percent to 24 percent.
  • At these Arlington schools, more than 150 students now walk to school regularly, who did not walk before.


  • Busy parents and school staff are wary of “one more thing to do.” Enthusiasm for the program does not necessarily translate into action when relying on volunteers; so funding for staff is essential.
  • Boston schools did not show significant gains in students walking to school. Most students who lived within walking distance of school already walked before SR2S. The challenge in Boston is greater than in Arlington because most elementary schools in the city bus more than half of their students under a school-choice program. At one school, more than 60 percent of the students are bused, but a high percentage of students miss the bus and have to be driven to school.
  • It is hard to motivate middle school students to walk to school if they do not already do so. At large middle schools (more than 1,000 students at the school in Arlington), many students live too far to walk.
  • Students as well as school officials are preoccupied with a wide range
    of social and academic concerns, which makes it difficult to launch a SR2S program.


  • $50,000 one-year grant from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for the demonstration project.
  • $4,500 grant from the National Park Service plus considerable in-kind services, such as staff and printing, to assess community interest.
  • $100,000 from Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (federal funds administered by the Massachusetts Highway Department).

Lessons Learned

The project focused on the fun aspect of families walking together. Elementary children were very enthusiastic, and parents who remembered walking to school when they were students were willing to try walking; though, developing a culture of walking in a community requires a sustained effort. Teachers are more willing to participate and integrate activities into their curriculum when given ready-made lesson plans.

It is more difficult to launch SR2S programs in school systems where a high percentage of students are bused out of their neighborhood. Middle school students are less interested in walk-to-school programs and activities than elementary students. Bicycle-to-school programs may be more popular with adolescents than walk-to-school programs.


Dorothea Hass
Tel: (617) 232-0104

Developing a culture of walking in a community requires a sustained effort.











Developing a culture of walking in a community requires a sustained effort.

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