Second-grader Janeyah Clark likes to ride her scooter everywhere, but on Tuesdays she especially likes to ride it to school with her grandfather Rick Lamun by her side.

The Monte Vista Elementary School student typically rides her scooter for the eight-minute trip from her home every Tuesday — the day of the week the Rohnert Park campus officials promote as a regular walk and roll to school day.

On Wednesday, thousands more students will participate in the official International Walk and Roll to School Day, an event meant to inspire students — and their parents — to forgo the automobile and walk or ride bikes or scooters to school.

"To me, it's about being healthy and fun. It's also about instilling the idea that you are capable of this," said Connie Sultana, a mother of two who is coordinating Wednesday's event at Proctor Terrace Elementary School in Santa Rosa. "I want it to be a possibility for children to recognize."

As many as 10,000 students from 70 schools in Sonoma County are expected to participate in Wednesday's event which is sponsored by Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition's Safe Routes to School program, Sonoma County Department of Health Services, Kaiser Permanente and Safe Kids Sonoma County, among others.

The one-day event can inspire more long-term programs, according to Deb Hubsmith, founder and director of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership.

Schools can create "Walk and Roll" days or a "Golden Shoe" competitions between classes to spur students to hit the pavement more than just once a year, she said.

"About a third of them go on to create a more permanent effort," Hubsmith said of schools across the nation that participate in International Walk and Roll to School Day. "The event really does serve as a way to bring schools into the fold for long term change."

The event has exploded in popularity in Sonoma County.

In 1999, the same year Safe Routes to School was established in California, five Sonoma County Schools participated in the one-day event. In 2006, that number had grown to 15.

Brook Haven School in Sebastopol will celebrate 10 years of Walk and Roll to School Day today with first-year Principal Debbie Hanks leading a walking school bus to campus. First-year Superintendent Linda Irving will lead a walking group to Park Side School, where she also serves as principal.

The event's surge in popularity comes in an era when far fewer students than in generations past get to school in any way other than in mom or dad's car.

A 1969 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that about half of school kids walked or rode bikes to school. That number spiked to 89 percent when students lived within a mile of campus.

In 2004, the most recent comparable figures available, those percentages had plummeted to 13 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

"There has been a huge decrease, but if we focus the lens on the last seven years, there has been this burgeoning, thriving interest in rekindling walking and bicycling, and walking and bicycle to school particularly," said<NO1><NO> Nancy Pullen-Seufert, the associate director of the National Center for Safe Routes to School and senior research associate at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center.

In California, Safe Routes to School funding was maintained by Gov. Jerry Brown's approval of SB99 last month. The new law creates the Active Transportation Program and sets aside $129 million, some of it federal funding, by bicycle and pedestrian improvements statewide.

In the CDC survey, distance was the leading reason kids and their parents did not ride to school, but traffic, crime and weather were also cited.

Santa Rosa has completed some high-profile — and sometimes controversial — projects to add bike lanes to existing roads, sometimes leading to the elimination of traffic lanes.

Since 1999, Santa Rosa has added approximately 37 miles of dedicated bike lanes to city streets to bring the total to nearly 67 miles.

Parents uneasy about letting their children ride on the roads can let them ride on the sidewalks in areas that do not have specific prohibitions against it, such as downtown Santa Rosa. But Tina Panza, local director of Safe Routes to School, encouraged older students to learn the rules of the road and how to ride safely on the streets.

And in an era when students are more likely than ever to go to school somewhere other than a neighborhood campus, schools should take a greater role in encouraging parents to coordinate carpooling programs, Panza said.

"I really wish more schools would sort of step up and help parents connect with each other," she said. Carpool email lists or geographic sign-ups could inspire people to share rides, she said.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.