1.2 Safe Routes to School
The goal of Safe Routes to School programs is to increase the amount of bicycling and walking trips to and from school while simultaneously improving safety for children bicycling or walking to school. SRTS programs are community-based and are intended to be comprehensive in nature. Programs include education of children, school personnel, parents, community members, and LEOs about safe bicycling and walking behavior and safe driving behavior around pedestrians and bicyclists. In addition, programs include enforcement and engineering activities to improve traffic safety and risky elements of the traffic environment around primary and secondary schools so children can safely bicycle or walk to school. Information on the role of law enforcement in SRTS is available on the National Center for Safe Routes to School website (http://apps.saferoutesinfo.org/lawenforcement).
The CDC has identified SRTS programs as one of eight non-clinical, context-based, community-wide intervention that has the potential to improve population health. See CDC’s Health Impact in 5 Years (HI-5) strategies for health transformation: www.cdc.gov/policy/hst/hi5/index.html.
From 2005 to mid-2012, SAFETEA-LU required each State to have its own SRTS program, including a full-time coordinator to manage Federal funds. Each year, Federal funding was allocated on infrastructure (engineering) improvements and on non-infrastructure projects (public awareness and outreach, enforcement near schools, education, and training for volunteers) to encourage walking and bicycling to school. In June 2012 new legislation, MAP-21, was enacted that significantly altered how SRTS and other pedestrian and bicycle programs are structured and funded. Under the MAP-21 Act, SRTS was no longer a standalone program (no new funding); however, SRTS projects were still eligible to compete for funding alongside other bicycle and pedestrian-related programs, including former Transportation Enhancements and Recreational Trails projects.
Under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (signed in 2015 and authorized until 2020), as part of the Surface Transportation Program Setaside (STPS) funds, States can determine their own funding priorities. Few changes were made to the funding, and most features of MAP-21 have been retained. Local communities and school systems can apply for the Federal STPS funds through the State DOTs, but local and State agencies have to provide up to 20% in matching funds for project costs. To learn more, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/fastact/ and www.saferoutespartnership.org/healthy-communities/policy-change/federal/FAST-act-background-resources.
For a brief history of the SRTS program including funding, see www.saferoutespartnership.org/safe-routes-school/101/history.
Use: With the establishment of the national SRTS program all 50 States and the District of Columbia initiated SRTS programs. As of 2015, more than $1.03 billion out of the $1.147 billion in SAFETEA-LU funds apportioned to local and statewide SRTS programs had been allocated (FHWA, 2015). At that time 17,400 schools representing 6.8 million students had received funding or were slated to receive funds for SRTS programs. Importantly, 68% of award recipients were classified as Title 1 (low-income) schools, a finding that is relevant because areas with lower median income are over-represented in bicyclist- and pedestrian-related crashes (McArthur et al., 2014).
Of the projects funded 48% included infrastructure improvements, such as sidewalk improvements (20%), pedestrian and bicyclist access (15%), and traffic calming improvements (13%). In addition, 10% of projects funded were related to law enforcement countermeasures. About 19.5% of all elementary and middle schools have had SRTS programming in the past 10 years. From 2005 to 2012 nearly 14,000 schools received SRTS funding (Active Living Research, 2015). See the Pedestrian Safety chapter, Section 2.2 for more information.
As of September 2019 the number of SRTS programs in the country is still undetermined, but a census is underway (see www.saferoutespartnership.org/safe-routes-school/local-work/census).
Effectiveness: SRTS efforts include, at a minimum, a 3E approach to pedestrian and bicycle safety addressing engineering, education, and enforcement (programs can also include encouragement, evaluation, and equity considerations). SRTS programs, including education and training, can be effective in teaching children and their parents how to evaluate and choose the safest routes for walking or bicycling to and from school, to practice safe behaviors when walking, biking or driving around children walking/biking to school, how to use common engineering treatments to enhance their safety (sidewalks, crosswalks), to adhere to crossing guard direction, and to abide by traffic laws, especially in and around school zones. Although the full program emphasizes broad education, some specific implementations have centered on site- appropriate engineering changes; results have shown behavioral improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists (NHTSA, 2004, 2015).
While no bicycle-specific safety studies have been reported, overall safety improvements have been demonstrated for SRTS programs in regional studies. A study that looked at pedestrian and bicyclist injury and fatality data from 18 States over 16 years (1995 to 2010) associated SRTS with a 23% reduction in pedestrian/bicyclist injury risk and a 20% reduction in pedestrian/bicyclist fatality risk in school-age children compared to adults 30 to 64 years old (DiMaggio et al., 2016). On a State-by-State basis, only Florida, Maryland, New York, South Carolina of the 18 States showed statistically significant risk reductions in child pedestrian/bicyclist injury, while the remainder showed no effect. Another study found a 60% decrease in the number of pedestrians involved in car crashes after the implementation of SRTS in Miami-Dade County. Similarly, school-aged injury rates in New York City decreased by 44% in census tracts with SRTS interventions relative to those without interventions (NHTSA, 2015). A cost-effectiveness model estimates a savings of $224 million for one cohort of intersection users in New York City by implementing the SRTS program (Muennig et al., 2014). The authors concluded that SRTS programs can remain effective for decades because of the lasting engineering component.
Notably, one study of 44 Texas SRTS programs found that the presence of infrastructure or non-infrastructure funding alone was associated with modest sustained long-term (3-year) changes in active commuting to school (Hoelscher et al., 2016). Over time, the percentage of students who reported walking or biking in schools with non-infrastructure SRTS funding decreased while those in comparison control schools with no SRTS or infrastructure projects increased. This trend suggests a need for sustained non-infrastructure SRTS activities. Parents’ anecdotal reports of decreased bikeability due to increases in traffic and decreases in the quality of road maintenance played a role in the students’ active commuting behaviors, suggesting the need to involve parents in SRTS intervention education.
Because funds are limited for SRTS programs, prioritizing the allocation of funding across the schools in a State can help improve the overall effectiveness of SRTS programs by focusing on those schools that are most likely to experience the greatest safety benefits. McArthur et al. (2014) found that frequency of pedestrian/bicycle crashes generally were greater with greater population density, larger average family sizes, lower median income, and fewer two-parent households. In addition, schools located on local roads experienced higher crash rates than those located on higher-class roads or arterials. For more information about the effectiveness of SRTS (including information on the effectiveness of SRTS on injury rates, behavioral improvements, and the percentage of students walking or biking to school, see the Pedestrian Safety chapter, Section 2.2.
Costs: Activities associated with SRTS may be low cost and may also be eligible for non-infrastructure grants mentioned above. Grants are administered by each State’s SRTS coordinator. Significant material and resources can be accessed at no cost. NCSRTS provides downloadable material for State and local SRTS programs.
Time to implement: It is short for education. Once a school or district has decided to implement an SRTS program, a range of material, including an on-line step-by-step guide on getting started, is available from the NCSRTS. Programs funded through State DOTs, including engineering/infrastructure components typically require applications on a funding cycle and can take significantly longer to implement.