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LECCO, Italy — Each morning, about 450 students travel along 17 school bus routes to 10 elementary schools in this lakeside city at the southern tip of Lake Como. There are zero school buses.

In 2003, to confront the triple threats of childhood obesity, local traffic jams and — most important — a rise in global greenhouse gases abetted by car emissions, an environmental group here proposed a retro-radical concept: children should walk to school.

They set up a piedibus (literally foot-bus in Italian) — a bus route with a driver but no vehicle. Each morning a mix of paid staff members and parental volunteers in fluorescent yellow vests lead lines of walking students along Lecco? s twisting streets to the schools? gates, Pied Piper-style, stopping here and there as their flock expands.

At the Carducci School, 100 children, or more than half of the students, now take walking buses. Many of them were previously driven in cars. Giulio Greppi, a 9-year-old with shaggy blond hair, said he had been driven about a third of a mile each way until he started taking the piedibus. “I get to see my friends and we feel special because we know it? s good for the environment,” he said.

Although the routes are each generally less than a mile, the town? s piedibuses have so far eliminated more than 100,000 miles of car travel and, in principle, prevented thousands of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the air, Dario Pesenti, the town? s environment auditor, estimates.

The number of children who are driven to school over all is rising in the United States and Europe, experts on both continents say, making up a sizable chunk of transportation? s contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions. The “school run” made up 18 percent of car trips by urban residents of Britain last year, a national survey showed.

In 1969, 40 percent of students in the United States walked to school; in 2001, the most recent year data was collected, 13 percent did, according to the federal government? s National Household Travel Survey.

Lecco? s walking bus was the first in Italy, but hundreds have cropped up elsewhere in Europe and, more recently, in North America to combat the trend. Towns in France, Britain and elsewhere in Italy have created such routes, although few are as extensive and long-lasting as Lecco? s.

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