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Podcast Series: Safe Routes Philly

Safe Routes Philly is a program that teaches and encourages students to ride bikes and walk safely in the city. SRP puts on many projects, including Bike to School day and Ride for Reading.
SRP is supported by the city Department of Public Health and a National Highway Safety Administration grant to the Office of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Waffiyyah Murray coordinates the program here at Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. She works with teachers educators and volunteers to bring bicycling to schools around Philly. Since 2010 they have reached 90,000 students in over 140 city schools.

SRP is part of Safe Routes to School National Partnership. This encourage families to use active transportation, such as walking and biking to and from school but also in their communities.

Murray is a North Philly native, she grew up walking and biking every day. For her it was the most fun part of the day, as she interacted with peers, friends, and neighborhood on her way to school. To her biking as a kid meant freedom. When she heard there were barriers for kids who wanted to walk and bike in their neighborhood she wanted to do something about it. The barriers can be due to the lack of safety, equipment or the knowledge of how to get around safely. She wanted to be a part of a program that helped break down some of the barriers and encourages students to get to school safely, and to be healthy while doing it. She excited to do this work and make a difference.

She has been working on this for two years. In her experience some of the major barriers around biking is that a lot of schools and parents don’t feel that their child is safe biking to and from school. Sometimes they feel the community or neighborhood is not safe. Parents can also be unsure about biking general, so a lot of her work is in education around the rules for biking safely.

While there are lots of nervous parents and teachers she finds that most kids want to bike. Sometimes they don’t because their parents don’t want them to or because their families can’t afford a bike, which is common especially with growing children. When this happens SRP goes in and talks to the parents about how their kid can bike safely so they’re not nervous or scared. Often times taking them on group rides helps to get over initial fear. SRP will also work with schools to combine resources and to get as many kids on bicycles as they can.

One school Murray has worked with is Sullivan Elementary school. Recently she helped the school get bike racks. Part of the work for that went to looking for a good place to install the rack. It needs to be accessible to the kids when they come in, but also needed to be in within adults sight views. She works with lots of other schools in Philly to get bike racks, and says if you see a school with bike racks in Philly, 90% of the time SRP had something to do with it.

Murray’s approach is for SRP to not be a burden on schools. Philly schools have a lot going on and a million things on their plates. She doesn’t want SRP to be something extra but instead asks how can they work together to bring resources together to help the students. One of their popular programs is Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Curriculum, and they work with PE teachers. Usually the skills taught in the program are similar those already being taught in PE and thus it is not difficult for PE teachers to incorporate it into their curriculum.

Another example is the Walking School Bus program. SRP will look for parents or volunteers who are already in school or parents who are already walking their kids to school and try to work with them to support them in what they’re doing. At one elementary school they found just this, a group of parents who had organized themselves and were walking large groups of kids to and from school. SRP approached them and ask how they could contribute and support them.

SRP wants to be a resource, not a burden to these schools while supporting and growing programs. It is also important to remember that some things take time. When Murray was working with Sullivan last school year they tried to get a lot of things going and everything didn’t happen that they wanted. But they met with parents on a regular basis and the next year they were able to get the ball rolling on bike to school days, bike racks, getting a fleet of youth bikes at the school.

Their work also reminds parents that they are role models for kids Murray recalled once where a child told her that she was crossing the street with her mom and her mom had headphone in. She informed her mom that wearing headphones wasn’t safe and she had learned it in school with SRP.

Murray’s most recent event was Bike to School Day, on May 10th, which is a national event. Twelve schools participated, which is the most schools they’ve ever had. For the event schools all across the country celebrate the joys of biking. Some do bicycle trains and meet up to bike together, others led rides around the school. The day is all about getting youths on bikes and having fun. It gives youth the opportunity who don’t bike to school every day a chance to do it in a more organized way. Also schools see the success of bike to school day and will try to incorporate more bike to school events throughout the year. Overall it was a huge success and Murray is excited to keep working with schools in the upcoming school year.

-Marina Stuart

Topics: Biking in Philly, Featured, Safe Routes Philly

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