What Is Safe Routes To School?
Safe Routes to School is an initiative that encourages students to walk, bike and take other active transportation with other students in the community.
At the same time, Safe Routes to School also promotes education and other initiatives in the city to create safe environments for students to walk to school instead of having to rely on motorized transportation.
California was the first state to launch a statewide Safe Routes To School program when it redirected a large percentage of safety funds.
By focusing on creating safer environments for all residents, state officials oversaw improved infrastructure, including:
- New bike lanes
- Improved pathways
- Updated crosswalks and sidewalks
The funds went to great use, as students were able to travel to school with their friends and classmates safely and efficiently.
After other state representatives saw the success of California’s Safe Routes to School program, lawmakers started looking at how they could implement a similar program in their state.
Another early adopter of Safe Routes to School was Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) because of the rising rates of child obesity. As a result, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provided funding for additional programs in other states.
After a few years of hard work and persistence, the SAFETEA-LU bill was passed in 2005.
Once this bill was passed, Safe Routes to School became a federally-funded program throughout the country, and many students, communities, and transportation systems started experiencing the benefits that Safe Routes to School offers.
What Are The Goals Of Safe Routes To School?
Since Safe Routes to School was first adopted, the program has seen significant growth across the U.S., and various federal bills have provided the program with enough funding to ensure ongoing success.
In fact, every State Department of Transportation receives annual funding for Safe Routes to School based on the number of students enrolled in primary and middle schools.
Each state that receives funding for this program is required to have a full-time Safe Routes to School coordinator, and the purpose of this program in each state is meant to:
- Encourage all students and community leaders to walk or take their bicycle to school.
- Make paths safer for pedestrians and bicyclists while also making these
- modes of transportation more attractive. As a result, Safe Routes to School will help improve the health and lifestyles of students and their community.
- Safe Routes to School must facilitate the planning, development, and execution of projects that will help improve safety, reduce traffic, while also minimizing fuel consumption and air pollution in the areas of schools.
Safe Routes to School plays an important role to ensure the safety and health of students across the U.S.
Not only does the program represent a crucial role in building and planning initiatives that reduce automobile usage, but it also helps promote healthy activities for students and combats obesity.
Traffic Congestion Caused By School Travel
It comes as no surprise for any driver who has to pass by a school on their way to their destination that traffic is especially dangerous while school is in session. According to a recent study by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, about 20-30% of all traffic is generated by parents driving their children to school.
Not only does the added vehicle traffic disrupt regular traffic patterns, but it also directly results in unhealthy habits. About half of all students walked or biked to school, whereas, today around 13% of all students continue to walk or bike to school.
As more vehicles battle to access school zones, parents may be more rushed and less careful around children. This lapse of judgment has resulted in more injuries and deaths near school zones.
Road congestion around schools continues to increase as more students are driven into school by their parents. As a result of more congestion, some parents choose to speed through school zones to “make up time” once congestion reduces.
The result is often more pedestrian accidents, and this creates an environment where students, drivers, and the community at large are put at a disadvantage.
How To Start A Safe Routes To School Program In Your Area
Since Safe Routes to School offers a range of benefits to all students, many parents want to ensure their children benefit from the federally-funded program. If your school or community is not part of Safe Routes to School, then you can take some steps to enter the program.
First, you will need to create a committee where a group of parents will guide the building effort. You can either focus on building a Safe Routes to School program for a school district where you can oversee policies for many schools, or create a plan for a single school with more resources focused on specific needs.
Second, your group will need to gain support from other groups to build awareness. Since Safe Routes to School is a federally-funded program, you will need to form partnerships to show the value of the application for your community.
Here are a few groups that you could partner with since you will be promoting benefits for all members:
- City or school district safety committee
- Parent Teacher Associations
- School site councils
- Groups that represent the best interests of disabled residents
- Bicycle safety advisory boards
Once you identify one or two groups that you can partner with, you should begin outreach and relationship building. Safe Routes to School provides a great toolkit to help you in the process.
Safe Routes To School Improves Health & Safety
There is no doubt that the Safe Routes to School initiative has grown to become a significant part of U.S. communities. The federally funded campaign has modest beginnings, but over a few years it has become a staple to ensure the safety and personal health of children across the country.
Be sure to reach out to your school or school district to learn more about Safet Routes to School for your community today!