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Iowa State University Extension

Web-based tool helps Iowa schools map safe walking, biking routes

walk to school

One way Iowa children can add more physical activity to their daily routine is by walking and biking to school. To help kids get there safely, Christopher J. Seeger, ISU Extension landscape architect and associate professor of landscape architecture, has developed a Web-based mapping tool school administrators can use to map out safe walking and biking routes.

Seeger’s creation combines Google Maps with information school districts gather as part of Safe Routes to School (SRTS) planning. This federally funded initiative promotes physical activity while integrating traffic relief, safety and environmental awareness. Through SRTS, school districts identify where children live, the routes they take to school and any barriers that may impede walking and biking. Seeger’s mapping tool makes it easier to gather and use that information.

Seeger developed the tool with funding from the Iowa Department of Transportation. Rather than gathering data with paper surveys, school administrators can take advantage of Seeger’s Web-based geospatial survey, which uses Google Maps to interact with their local database of geographic information. Students and their parents can self report the routes they use to get to school as well as the barriers preventing them from using existing routes. Administrators can verify and update maps of children’s walking and biking routes to school each year and efficiently evaluate the use and awareness of existing routes to school.

“The information collected can be used by the SRTS committees to help establish or expand SRTS programs to include walking, school buses or bike trails. Schools and cities can use the data to evaluate the effectiveness of the current plan and determine where additional walking guards, crosswalks or other infrastructure may be needed,” Seeger said.

The mapping tool will be available beginning Oct. 1. School administrators who are interested in using it may register online, Seeger said. They’ll receive information about the mapping tool as well as resources they can use to promote International Walk to School Month in October.

There is no cost to use the mapping tool this first year, Seeger said, though it is likely he will need to charge a small management fee in subsequent years.

This article appeared in September 2009 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter