South Carolina families have made it clear that they like the idea of children being able to walk to school. On International Walk to School Day in October, South Carolina had the highest percentage of participating schools among all the states - for the second year in a row.
And while the S.C. Department of Transportation (SCDOT) got off to a slow start with the federal Safe Routes to School program, approved in 2005, it has picked up welcome speed.
The federal government allocated $15.5 million to South Carolina for projects like widening sidewalks and adding bike lanes. Twenty-four projects across the state were identified in 2007 and 2008, but by the end of 2012, only one or two had been completed.
Now, seven are complete, including work at these elementary schools - Stiles Point on James Island, Stono Park in West Ashley and Hunley Park in North Charleston.
Two are under construction. Work at College Park Elementary in Ladson and Alston Middle School in Summerville is scheduled to begin in April. Contracts are being let for two more, including Boulder Bluff Elementary in Goose Creek. Three are acquiring necessary right-of-way.
And local school districts are in the process of doing the design for three more, Beech Hill Elementary in Summerville among them. Further, a letter went out to schools last month inviting them to submit other projects for consideration.
Some of the original $15.5 million is expected to be left over.
Walk to school events, like one last week sponsored by SCDOT and described by Ron Brinson on today's Commentary page, are intended to emphasize the importance of physical activity for children, pedestrian safety, environmental stewardship (reducing auto emissions) and a sense of community.
Experts say that even a 10-minute brisk walk can help stimulate children's brains and improve school performance.
And what other activities that children engage in are free?
The Lowcountry has had its share of rain and cold weather this winter, but generally speaking it has a temperate, inviting climate for walking.
And with obesity reaching epic proportions, getting children to exercise is vital - but only if they are safe.
South Carolina's children deserve that option. SCDOT should push on to make safe routes to school available to more of them.
And, who knows, maybe more adults will join them.
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