Elected Officials’ Breakfast: A Discussion about Safe Routes to School

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 by Julianna Arnett

Fenton pic

On September 19, the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative's Government Domain hosted an educational and interactive forum that brought together community members, planners, government officials, and school board members to discuss safe routes to school. The event featured Mark Fenton, a nationally recognized public health, transportation, and planning consultant, as the event's keynote speaker, and was followed by a panel discussion with local experts including Graham Mitchell with the City of Lemon Grove, Michelle Lieberman with Safe Routes to School National Partnership, and Brian Gaze with Circulate San Diego.

Fenton began the event by asking the audience to close their eyes and think back to their earliest memories of being physically active. The room burst into commotion as participants fondly shared their childhood memories such as playing with children of all ages and staying outside until the street lights went on, which meant it was time to go home for dinner. When Fenton asked how many participants thought it was good that most kids were no longer free to explore outdoors, not a single person raised their hand. The stage was now set to discuss complete streets, active transportation, and safe routes to school.

Fenton provided an overview of how a number cities and neighborhoods throughout the country were developed during a time of suburban sprawl; many of these areas lack sidewalks and have an excess of parking lots. He then discussed how current trends show that younger generations prefer to live in walkable communities, and how even builders and the Realtor's Association are taking note. If cities plan to be attractive and sustainable, it will be necessary for them to adopt complete street designs that consider drivers and pedestrians of various ages and abilities, and active transportation, which includes human-powered modes of transport such as biking and walking.

During the panel discussion, Mitchell shared how the city and school district are working together in Lemon Grove to strengthen their joint use agreement, which allows district owned land to be open to the community, when not in use by the school. The other panelists provided resources, as well as local and national examples of policies cities and school districts are enacting to encourage active living and safe routes to school. The panel was followed by a lively question and answer session, during which audience members were able to explore their own unique challenges and walk away with resources to improve their community.

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