Safe Routes To School -
What Does That Mean?
Safe Routes To School (SR2S) efforts have been inspired by a myriad of concerns—therefore those efforts look different from community to community. The SR2S founders in Odense, Denmark, were mainly concerned about how many injuries children were suffering on their city's streets. In the Bronx, New York, organizers also were concerned about injuries. In Toronto, the major concern was air pollution, and people understood that unless prevailing trends in travel changed, the situation would worsen. The California Department of Health Services entered the field in 1999 with a special interest in promoting physical activity for health. In Chicago, the Walking School Bus (WSB) program, sponsored by the Department of Transportation and the Chicago Police Department, responded to concerns about children's safety in high-crime neighborhoods.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began funding Safe Routes To School in 2000, with two demonstration projects in Marin County, California, and Arlington, Massachusetts. NHTSA also began to gather and compile the array of SR2S activities into a central document, Safe Routes To School: Practice and Promise , in the hopes of making information readily available to decision-makers. The development of this guide included researching the effectiveness of Safe Routes To School efforts.
Projects that improve walking and bicycling conditions for schoolchildren have sprung up all over the world during the past 20 years. Regardless of what the organizers name the project, all include a combination of activities that make it safer for children to walk and bicycle to school. When we use the term Safe Routes To School, we mean the whole array of efforts. The beauty of the SR2S movement is that it is enormously diverse. However, some common threads characterize communities that demonstrate what we consider examples of “promising practices” in SR2S.
Based on the experience of many, we have identified key factors a community should have in place to provide comprehensive, effective, pleasant, and safe routes to school for its children:
The "Four Es" and Safe Routes To School
The key factors for a successful SR2S project fit nicely into the transportation safety framework that is familiar to health and safety professionals: the “Four Es.” Each “E” can be developed into an effort that supports SR2S goals.
Most SR2S efforts involve more than one of the “Four Es;” many include all four. What follows are examples of ways that five different communities have utilized one of the “Es” as part of a broader effort.
Because walking to school is somewhat uncommon in the United States, it is important to encourage nonwalkers to try it. The activity most effective in getting large numbers of parents and children to try walking is Walk To School Day, an event that began in Great Britain in 1994. America's first involvement came in 1997 with the Partnership for a Walkable America.
The event has grown each year, with NHTSA's support through the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. In 2002, three million people, in 28 countries, took part in International Walk To School Day. Quotes from a few of the American participants follow:
“It was a beautiful morning. Everyone had fun.”
“It was a wonderful experience. We had 513 students
walk with their parents and siblings. We all had a great time. Thanks
for the idea.”
“I met the students at the driveway entrance
to the school from Westwood. ... Jamie was so excited that her
Mom drove across the railroad tracks and into the subdivision so
she could walk to school. The duty teacher could not get over the
high number of walkers for the day and less car traffic, too.”
Although Walk To School Day events cannot guarantee that students will continue to walk, they are a positive first step. With the large number of people walking, parents and children feel safer and have fun. Walk To School Day may help skeptical parents or school personnel to see the value of walking, so that they support ongoing activities. Many communities have asked their walkers to complete the NHTSA Walkability Checklist (see Appendix C: Walkability & Bikeability Checklists), and on their walk to collect information about positive and negative experiences on various streets to help pinpoint areas that need attention from the local government.
Regardless of what the organizers name the project, all include a combination of activities that make it safer for children to walk and bicycle to school.