“I learned that if there’s no sidewalk and there’s traffic, you should walk on the left side facing the traffic,” she said.
Tendra walks to Virginia Palmer Elementary School every day with her mother, Anita O’Mealy, who said it’s both good exercise for her daughter and a good time to teach her to be cautious when she walks anywhere.
“It’s a safe route where we walk so it’s enjoyable,” Anita said. “Some kids, when they walk, walk off the sidewalk onto the road and their bikes — some of them are pretty bad on those, too.”
Tendra, like many of her peers on Wednesday, walked to school and was welcomed by Washoe County School District staff and police. Students of nine Washoe County schools participated in Wednesday’s “International Walk to School Day” and recited safety rules to the volunteers working with Safe Routes to Schools and Safe Kids Washoe County staff as they reinforced good pedestrian safety habits.
Though the number of students going to school on foot is decreasing, administrators and volunteers want to encourage walking to school as a healthy activity to combat child obesity. According to Krall, about 15 percent of students in the district are walking to school, down from about 40 percent two years ago.
“We all get lackadaisical,” Safe Kids Washoe County coordinator Melissa Krall said at Virginia Palmer Elementary School in Sun Valley. “We think, ‘Oh, gosh, you know, I’ve heard about school zones 50,000 times this year’ or ‘I’ve heard about crosswalks.’ … Kids think differently. Their brains don’t process the same or as quickly as ours. They’re impulsive. If the ball rolls across the street, they’re going to chase it.”
Krall said children also have been taught to identify pedestrian hazards. She cited a national statistic that has found that one out of every three child pedestrian deaths happen from 3 to 7 p.m. As a result, Krall said, it’s especially important that students take extra care when walking home after school.
The most recent child pedestrian death in Washoe County occurred in January near Glenn Duncan Elementary School in Reno. Krall said the accident occurred after school hours.
Krall said volunteers and educators encourage students to wear bright colors to help increase their visibility to drivers.
Other dangers, such as an absence of sidewalks, are ever present for schoolchildren. At Palmer, to the northeast along East Ninth Avenue, there is no sidewalk in front of a row of houses, though there is a sidewalk across the street, lining the dirt lot up until the northeast corner. The school has no flashing lights to alert drivers to the 15 mph school zone.
WCSD School Police Chief Mike Mieras, who quizzed students about how to cross the street and gave students pencils and stickers for correct answers, said about 95 percent of drivers are aware of the speed limits around schools but it always remains an issue.
“It would help if we did have lights on all of the schools,” Mieras said. “I understand with the circumstances that we can’t, but it would help. It’s something that brings attention to drivers.”
The district’s police department does have a crossing guard program to help kids, especially at schools that have the heaviest traffic. Some schools have four to six guards while others can have up to 12.
Parents appreciated the chance to reinforce safety with their kids. Ann Lacy, the mother of two children, including a 7-year-old at Palmer, said it gives her son extra practice, which is helpful since she carpools with another family and they rarely walk to school.
“It did give us an opportunity to say, ‘I’ve seen you look both ways but you need to do it better,’ ” Lacy said. “I think we would need to practice a few more times before I turn him loose on his own.”
But the lack of sidewalks also presents a great challenge for most students. Going anywhere by foot safely, especially when it involves children, is being examined by the Regional Transportation Commission through a concept called “complete streets.”
“The reason why you end up (having sidewalks in some areas and not others) is that you’ve got an old piece of property next to a new piece of property and end up with sidewalks that end at dirt lots,” said RTC spokeswoman Felicia Archer. “That’s when they came up with the idea of complete streets and that’s a concept we support.”
According to Archer, a pedestrian safety action plan — for which stakeholders are being gathered and details have yet to be determined — is currently underway to improve residents’ ability to walk the streets safely.
Archer also said the RTC has been approved for a $47,000 grant called Walk Safely Washoe through the Office of Traffic Safety. The RTC is partnering with the Washoe County Health Department to address issues such as sidewalks.
In Sparks, at Jesse Hall Elementary School, the Walk to School Day helped raise awareness at the campus, which also lacks sidewalks in certain areas.
Vickie Fisher, who works for the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA), the lead agency for Safe Kids Washoe County, said kids received coloring books and other prizes for reciting their rules when asked.
“I think if one child is injured, that’s one child too many,” Fisher said.
That’s why she was so enthusiastic about helping Hall with Walk to School Day.
“I tell people I have the best job in the world because I get paid to keep kids safe,” Fisher said.
Superintendent Heath Morrison also talked to kids on their way to school to ensure they would be cautious about crossing the street and taking notice of cars in traffic.
“As adults, we’re always very busy, running late without meaning to and we take shortcuts that are very convenient for us that can put kids in harm’s way and no one wants to do that,” Morrison said. “Today, we’re here to emphasize that to kids and there’s nothing more precious than our children and we just have to be very mindful of that. … I think it’s a great message and it reinforces safety and we can never talk about safety enough.”