FORT MILL TOWNSHIP — Orchard Park Elementary School resounded with the patter of little carbon footprints Wednesday morning as students, parents and teachers celebrated International Walk to School Day by getting to school on foot or riding a bike.
Of the 830 students at Orchard Park, 240 have walker passes and walk to and from school regularly. On Wednesday, nearly 450 students walked or biked to school.
This is a huge turnout this year. Im always surprised at how many people end up remembering, said Catherine OGrady, a parent volunteer who has organized the event in previous years. I saw kids there from a mile, a mile and a half away. I mean, I know them. I know where they live.
Orchard Park takes its walking program seriously.
As the community grew, we realized we needed to put programs in place, Principal Linda Locklier said.
The school consulted with the district office and a committee of law enforcement and other officials, developers and other experts to design the walking program and ensure safe routes. A crossing guard, student safety patrols, and a system of policies and procedures encourage walking and biking, officials said. Parents help out during arrival and dismissal times and Hugh Street, which runs along the school, is closed to traffic during those times.
You know who your neighbors are and you look out for their kids, said Orchard Park PTO Environmental Committee member Suzanne Harris, who organized the fifth annual Walk to School Day event for the school. Harris is the mother of a kindergartener and a second grader at Orchard Park, and the family walks to school together regularly.
We walk. I live so close that thats the only thing that makes sense, she said.
In community planning and urban design, walkability measures how easily residents can go about their daily errands and activities without a car. Benefits generally associated with higher walkability ratings include lower BMIs, reduced stress, increased community involvement, lower crime rates, and reduced pollution from carbon emissions.
While most of the local area is currently considered car-dependent, Baxter Village is an exception. Suzanne imagines living in Baxter without a car:
For me, it wouldnt be hard at all. We have the school, the library, Harris Teeter right down the road its a little tough to cross [Hwy.] 160, but doable. Thats one of the things that attracted us to Baxter. They call it a planned community. It was planned with all that in mind to be very family-friendly.
In August 2005, federal legislation established a National Safe Routes to School program to fund initiatives that encourage and enable children, including those with disabilities, to walk or bicycle to and from school.
The program was designed to improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution in the vicinity of schools while promoting a healthy lifestyle for children and their parents, according to the South Carolina Department of Transportation, which administered the program for the state.
Since 2005, South Carolina has received $15,506,430 in federal funding toward SRTS, including $2,272,118 in 2012.
Schools were eligible to compete for grants to fund projects to create safer walking routes, such as improving sidewalks and crosswalks, changing dangerous traffic patterns around school sites, and educating families and communities about the initiative. Orchard Park did not apply for specific grants through the program.
In July 2012, Congress passed a new transportation bill called Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. Beginning this month, SRTS projects will fall under the umbrella of the newly created Transportation Alternatives and will compete for funding alongside other projects, including those that were formerly part of the Transportation Enhancements and Scenic Byways programs.