Making it Safer to Get Outdoors and Get to Henry Raab Elementary School

In 1969, almost half of all students walked or bicycled to school . But today, less than 15% of students walk or bicycle to school. This decline has harmed students’ health and contributed to increased traffic congestion and air pollution near schools. 

In St. Clair County, IL, obesity and lack of physical activity is an ongoing problem. St. Clair County ranked 95 out of 102 Illinois counties for percent of population with obesity. 

Walking is one of the simplest, most effective, and most affordable strategies for incorporating physical activity into kids’ and adults’ lives. A one-mile walk, for example, equals about 40 minutes of the 60 minutes of recommended daily activity.

Beyond physical well-being, studies show links between physical activity and academic achievement. In short, active kids do better.

With more than 40% of parents uncomfortable with their student walking or cycling to school because of safety concerns, Henry Raab Elementary School in Belleville, IL, needed a strategy to encourage and increase the number of students walking or cycling to and from school. The school collaborated with Illinois Public Health Institute, Gateway Region YMCA Downtown Belleville, and HeartLands Conservancy to make it safe, easy, and fun for students to walk and bike to school. 

Parents, students, and residents of the area provided concerns and challenges with walking and bicycling. From there, the partners developed strategies to address these challenges, such as adding crossing guards, organizing a “walking school bus,” and calming traffic on certain streets that lead to the school.  

With these changes, some neighborhood kids may walk to school for the first time. Ultimately, they may become physically active for the rest of their lives. 


How You Can Make Walking and Bicycling Safer to Schools in Your Town

A great way to start a Safe Routes to School Program is to develop a plan. The strategies in these documents will help guide priorities to improve conditions for walking and bicycling. Your school, your town or county, or other entities can commission these plans.  Often there is funding available to cover the costs.

HeartLands Conservancy staff evaluating a crossing in Belleville.

HeartLands Conservancy’s Community Planning & Policy team has decades of experience creating Safe Routes to School Plans and would love to help your community. To find out more, contact Scott Dunakey, Community Planning & Policy Manager, at or call (618) 566-4451 ex 15.