Above: Deb Hubsmith was a biking and walking advocate from Marin County CA. She founded the Safe Routes to School National Partnership which brought millions of dollars of funds to towns cross the country to create safer biking and walking condition for school children. She was a charismatic presence, coalition builder, and memorable storyteller who left us all too soon after a courageous battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in August of 2015.
In 1969, more than 40 percent of all US schoolkids biked or walked to school—by 2001, less than thirteen percent did. Over that same period, rates of childhood obesity soared. One of the biggest drivers of inactivity among kids is unsafe streets for people on bike or foot.
US Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota, then ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was aware of this escalating problem, and in 2000 “deputized” Bay Area bicycle activist Deb Hubsmith (1969-2015) to run a federal Safe Routes to Schools pilot program in Marin County to encourage kids to get to school under their own power. The two had met earlier that year at the Sea Otter Classic cycling festival in Monterey, California, and Oberstar was impressed with her energy and organizing savvy.
The Marin project gained attention for increasing kids’ rate of biking and walking in the county with no rise in traffic injuries. Hubsmith joined with other bike activists around the country to press for similar programs in all 50 states. That happened in 2005, when Congress included $1.1 billion for Safe Routes to Schools in the federal transportation bill. To help local communities make the most of this opportunity, she founded the National Safe Routes to Schools Partnership with support from the Bikes Belong Foundation (now People for Bikes).
Biking and walking to school increased to almost 16 percent by 2012 (latest figures available). “We’re finding that the best interventions include both infrastructure improvements and programming. You put the sidewalks in but also get parents involved,” explains Margo Pedroso, deputy director of the organization. This strategy resulted in a 43 percent jump in biking and walking by schoolkids in 800 schools studied in Texas, Florida, Oregon, and DC.