Active Travel Charter for Canadian Children and Youth
As the number of children being driven for short trips grows, community streets and spaces where children gather bear greater congestion and traffic safety issues; air quality where children play suffers; and many children are denied the opportunity for exercise, fresh air and independence.
Built on extensive discussions with experts throughout Canada, this Charter details how we can create a culture where children choose to use active travel. The Charter may be signed by any individual, organization, authority or neighbourhood group that supports its vision and strategic principles regardless of formal position and ability to independently progress implementation.
Please support this Charter by signing it and encouraging friends, colleagues, school officials, government bodies, and national and local organizations to work with you to help create a nation where active travel for children and youth is the norm.
Active travel is an approach to transportation that focuses on physical activity like walking or cycling as opposed to motorized and carbon-dependent means. Active travel is a fundamental and universal right; yet as a nation we do not work with children and youth to develop active travel skills and few from this vulnerable population enjoy its benefits. Active travel has ceased being routine for children and youth and is becoming more of an anomaly even though active travel is a pleasurable, socially connective and environmentally responsible choice.
The Active Healthy Kids Report Card repeatedly ranks Canadian children’s activity low. As a direct result of inactivity, Canadian children are suffering from record levels of obesity, depression, heart disease, anxiety, and social isolation.
Active travel offers health, happiness and age-appropriate independence for our children and youth. It has the ability to build and preserve physical and emotional health while at the same time providing social connections and self-confidence.
Canada is a nation where children and youth walk and cycle regularly.
This vision will be realized when citizens and leaders alike:
- Recognize the value of active travel for children and youth
- Make a commitment to healthy, happy and sustainable communities
- Work together to overcome the physical, social and institutional barriers that limit children and youth from using active travel.
This Charter identifies the needs of children and youth who use active travel and provides a common framework to help authorities refocus existing policies, activities and relationships to create a culture where active travel for children and youth is the norm.
The actions listed under each principle provide a practical list of improvements that can be made in most communities. All communities are encouraged to add to this list to respond to local needs.
- A successful community for children and youth is a successful community for all
Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogota and active travel supporter, refers to children as a sort of indicator species of the health of a community. He says; “One common measure of how clean a mountain stream is, is to look for trout. If you find the trout, the habitat is healthy. It's the same way with children in a city…If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.”
- Prioritize the needs of children and youth in land-use and transport planning – the special needs required to accommodate this population also makes active travel possible for other vulnerable populations such as senior citizens.
- Improve land-use planning, ensuring that new housing, schools, after school program facilities and public transport stops are located and designed so that children can reach them easily on foot
- Children and youth have the right to safe environments for active travel
Car-centric communities discriminate against any population that cannot drive, including children. This sort of culture idealizes motorized mobilization, in turn creating a social stigma against active travel. It encourages our youth to yearn to get behind the wheel of a car as soon as possible at almost any cost and it prevents our elders from hanging up the keys before it becomes dangerous for them to drive.
- Put children’s mobility at the heart of urban planning
- Active travel contributes to sustainable happiness and well-being for all
Sustainable happiness is happiness that contributes to individual, community and/or global well-being and does not exploit other people, the environment, or future generations. Active travel is a good example of sustainable happiness because it is light on the earth, increases personal health and well-being, and contributes to a sense of community. A child can develop independence, appreciation for natural surroundings and community connectedness through active travel that can contribute to his or her personal well-being.
- Create beautiful, interesting, clean spaces along routes commonly used by children
- At appropriate stages of development, allow children and youth the independence required to travel actively with a buddy and on their own
- Connect with a child or youth by joining him or her for an active travel journey
- Community plans should make provisions for children and youth as active travelers
Children and youth deserve supportive land-use planning policies that make active travel to everyday destinations like school and after-school activities possible.
- Identify where children and youth want to go or need to go
- Assess those routes and ensure they are safe and suitable for them as possible
- Align sidewalks used by children and youth away from heavy traffic, perhaps with trees and other vegetation
- Ensure that sidewalks are suitable for tricycles, bicycles (of younger children) and strollers
- Ensure that cyclists are well provided for at intersections and have sufficient priority for forward movement
- Provide secure, convenient bicycle parking at destinations
- Make transit safe, welcoming, affordable and easy for children and youth; and ensure a parent with a stroller can easily navigate transit vehicles and waypoints
- The school journey is the most common trip for children and youth, and merits specific attention for active travel plans
- Endorse school policies and practices that favour active travel for the school journey
- Support active school travel programs that provide tools like walking school buses
- Act to reduce the time children spend in school buses
- Post speed zones of 30 km/h near schools
- Children and youth can help identify barriers and opportunities related to active travel
When children and youth are formally involved in planning their community, they are connected with the larger community and gain empowerment through voicing their concerns. Since they travel the routes, they can often enlighten planners to the real issues at stake and may create the best solutions because they see the problems up close.
- Designate someone as responsible for bringing the perspectives of young people to consideration during transport and land-use planning decisions
- Invite children and youth to planning meetings/walkabouts
- Survey groups of children and youth to identify problem areas and solutions
- Motorized transportation has adverse effects on children and youth, and communities should strive to reduce it
- Work to reduce the volume of motorized road traffic
- Post lower speed limits in high active-travel traffic areas
- Act to reduce children’s in-car time to reduce in-car pollutant effects
- When children and youth learn to be active travelers, they set habits for life
Active travel habits do not emerge naturally when whole generations have lost the regular practice. In-school education and encouragement can re-establish a culture where walking and cycling for short trips is the norm.
- Support Active and Safe Routes to School events and education in schools
- Provide for a designated staff person who can focus on bringing the right stakeholders together to discuss children’s active travel and who can facilitate in-school programming
Keeping in mind that the choice to use active travel is impacted most by the environment directly outside the home, a network of connected, direct and easy to follow walking routes that are safe, comfortable, attractive and well maintained should prioritize the linking of homes to schools. An active travel culture can be achieved through education and supportive programming.
Children and youth are more vulnerable to traffic pollution impacts. Reducing the adverse effects on children can impact long-term health outcomes on whole communities.