Faculty conversations: Christine Vogt
Old railroad beds led Christine Vogt to Safe Routes to School.
Vogt, professor in the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, examines trail systems, many of which have been created from old, unused railroad beds.
"They have a perfect connection from community to community," said Vogt, who has been researching community trails for about 10 years.
This research led her to Safe Routes to School, a program being adopted by a growing number of communities in Michigan and the U.S. to create routes for children to safely walk to school. It’s a program in which parents, school officials and other community members work together to evaluate the unique needs of their community.
This may include putting in sidewalks or repairing old sidewalks; slowing down traffic near sidewalk crossings; implementing the use of crossing guards; adding signage or striping to roads and crosswalks; installing bike racks at schools; teaching children about pedestrian safety; and educating parents about the benefits of walking or biking to school.
The purpose of the Safe Routes to School program is to:
• Improve children's safety while walking and bicycling
• Improve children’s health through physical activity
• Bring families, neighbors, school officials and community leaders together
• Reduce car traffic and dependence on fossil fuels
Vogt is an evaluator for the Safe Routes to School program. She collects data from students, parents and schools across Michigan on attitudes about walking or biking; beliefs about barriers to doing so; the methods of transportation that people are actually using; and the methods they would like to use.
The program has its roots in Denmark and later spread to other countries, including the U.S. It was started in Michigan in 2003 by the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Sports, formerly called the Michigan Fitness Foundation. In 2006, Congress started funding the program nationally, with all states are participating.
The data that Vogt is collecting may be used to help Congress consider a renewal of the funding for the program.
She said that Safe Routes to School is important because it’s a great way to improve the health and physical fitness of children when fitness programs are being cut because of budgetary or curricular reasons.
"The kids utilize these investments, but more importantly, everyone in that neighborhood benefits from an improved, walkable or bikable community," Vogt said.