The Safe Routes to School program promotes the providing of fresh air and exercise to our children by giving them a safe environment in which to walk or bike to school. As obesity is reaching epidemic levels, this program has the potential to improve the living habits of an entire generation of schoolchildren. It also helps reduce fuel consumption and air pollution.

In 2000, inspired by the successful sustainable transportation experiment in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, I brought together the federal Departments of Transportation, Education, and Health and Human Services and bicycling advocates to explore this idea.

In 2005, Congress approved $612 million for a national Safe Routes to School program as part of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), a landmark surface transportation funding bill.

The program makes funding available to states and communities for activities such as installing or upgrading sidewalks and bicycle paths, efforts to calm traffic and reduce speed, pedestrian and bike crossing projects, and traffic diversion programs in the vicinity of schools.

With the cooperation of federal, state, municipal, and local school officials, as well as parents and dedicated volunteers, we can help establish Safe Routes to School programs throughout this country and help our children live healthier lives.

— U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.) is chairman of the House Transportation Committee