For generations, one of the most common ways kids got to school was by walking or riding bike.

Over the years, that changed, but those who are involved in education, as well as other community and political leaders, noticed students were leading a more sedentary lifestyle and wanted to do something about that.

So, in Minnesota a new program known as Safe Routes to School was established through the Minnesota Department of Transportation in conjunction with other state agencies, including the Minnesota Department of Health, through a program known as the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP).

Incentives to enhance opportunities for biking and walking were offered to communities. 

In recent years an effort has been taking place in the Redwood area through a collaboration of school and community members being spearheaded by leaders at St. John Lutheran School.

Through its partnership with the City of Redwood Falls and Southwest Health and Human Services and its A Healthier Southwest program, St. John was able to secure grant funding to put together a plan that establishes a safe routes designation in the community not only for students but for anyone who walks or bikes.

The most recent effort as part of that program was initiated recently when Jim Doering, Redwood Falls public works projects coordinator, Dave Gartner, St. John Lutheran School administrator, and Renae Kramer, St. John school educator and Safe Routes coordinator, went around the community marking the designated paths for biking and hiking.

“We want to do what we can to work with the community to be healthy and safe,” said Shannon Gossen, a Southwest Health and Human Services public health nurse who has been assisting the city and school with Safe Routes implementation.

While the intent is to encourage a healthier lifestyle and to provide a safer traveling alternative for bikers and walkers, a secondary outcome of the addition of the marked paths is to raise awareness for other drivers to be watching out for those who are on them.

Education is a big part of the Safe Routes program, and Kramer is offering classes to students and the community if there is interest about biking safety.

Doering said those areas where bike paths are designated are not exempt from parking.

Riders and bikers are encouraged to make themselves as visible as is possible, especially at night.

When riding a bike, it is also important to wear protective gear, including a helmet. Funds for the Safe Routes program are allocated by the Minnesota legislature in conjunction with federal funding.

Since 2005, the state has allocated $30 million annually to support the Safe Routes initiative.

To learn more about Safe Routes visit the Minnesota Department of Transportation Web site at www.dot.state.mn.us.