2.2 Safe Routes to School
From 2009 to 2018 there were 1,207 people killed in school-transportation-related crashes—an average of 1,214 fatalities per year (NHTSA - FARS, 2009-2018). During that period 100 school-age pedestrians younger than 19 died in school-transportation-related crashes.
The goal of Safe Routes to School Programs (SRTS) is to increase the amount of walking and bicycling trips to and from school while simultaneously improving safety for children walking or bicycling to school. SRTS programs are community-based and intended to be comprehensive. Programs educate children, school personnel, parents, community members, and LEOs about safe walking and bicycling behavior and safe driving behavior around pedestrians and bicyclists. In addition, programs include enforcement and engineering activities to improve traffic safety and reduce or eliminate risky elements of the traffic environment around primary and secondary schools so children can safely walk or bicycle to school. Walking or biking to school has additional benefits to students’ health. Studies have found an association between active transport to school and lower BMIs as well as higher performance on standardized tests (Active Living Research, 2015).
The CDC has identified SRTS programs as one of eight non-clinical, context-based, community-wide interventions that have the potential to improve population health. See CDC’s Health Impact in 5 Years (HI-5) strategies for health transformation at 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 MAP-21, 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 Set-Aside funds, States can determine their own funding priorities. The total available STPS funds are expected to be from $819 million to $850 million per year through 2020. Few changes were made to the funding, but 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. From July to September 2016, four out of 37 reporting States announced $7 million in MAP-21 funding for local and statewide SRTS projects, 2 States announced $1.9 million in SAFETEA-LU funding for local and statewide SRTS projects, and 1 State announced $5.3 million in FAST Act funding. Additionally, as of January 31, 2017, $1.06 billion out of the $1.147 billion in SAFETEA-LU funds apportioned to local and statewide SRTS programs had been allocated. At that time 19,378 schools, representing an estimated 7.6 million students, had received funding or were slated to receive funds for SRTS programs. Historically, approximately 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. To learn more, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/MAP21/. From 2005 to 2012 nearly 14,000 schools received SRTS funding (Active Living Research, 2015). See the Bicycle Safety chapter, Section 1.2 for more information.
Effectiveness: SRTS efforts include a 3E approach to pedestrian and bicycle safety addressing engineering, education, and enforcement (programs can also include encouragement, evaluation, environment, engagement, 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, what safe behaviors are associated with walking and biking, and instilling the need to practice and model 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), the need to adhere to crossing guard direction, and to abide by traffic laws, especially in and around school zones. See Section 2.1 (Elementary-Age Child Pedestrian Training), Section 4.2 (Reduce and Enforce Speed Limits), and 4.4 (Enforcement Strategies). Safety is a key concern in the decision to participate in SRTS and associated programs (Safe Routes to School Partnership, n.d.). Traffic speeds and volume along the route to school, safety when crossing intersections, and prevalence of crime were reported as safety-related factors influencing child participation in walking or biking to school, according to one survey conducted in Florida (Zhou et al., 2009). Improvements to the road infrastructure with traffic calming measures, improved walking and biking facilities, policies to support active transportation, and community engagement and mobilization are key to addressing safety concerns.
A growing body of evidence suggests SRTS programs are effective in reducing injuries. Overall safety improvements have been demonstrated for SRTS programs in regional studies (NCSRTS & FHWA, 2015). One 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 (NCSRTS & FHWA, 2015). Child pedestrian and bicyclist injuries in Texas decreased 43% (NCSRTS & FHWA, 2016). In Washington, DC, the effectiveness of school crossing guards was examined using data from 20 schools (Robey et al., 2018). Crash reduction and traffic safety statistics during the morning before school time period were compared before and after the deployment of crossing guards. Results showed a 25% decrease in all crash types, a 38% decrease in injuries, and a 23% decrease in pedestrian-/cyclist-involved crashes. Another study (DiMaggio et al., 2016) reported a 13% decline in pedestrian and bicyclist fatality risk in 18 U.S. States. When the effectiveness assessment of SRTS was extended to nationwide, SRTS was associated with a 14-16% decline in pedestrian and bicyclist injury risk.
Although the full SRTS program emphasizes a comprehensive education, enforcement, and engineering approach, some specific implementations have centered on site-appropriate engineering changes; results have shown behavioral improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists (Britt et al., 1995). However, a study by the NCSRTS found that schools that were able to increase the percentage of students walking or bicycling to school were more likely to have leaders in the schools to promote SRTS, frequent events to reinforce walking or biking to school, strong parental support, and supportive policies (NCSRTS & FHWA, 2015).
Data for 130 legacy SRTS programs initiated before the national program were evaluated to ascertain safety effects (Blomberg et al., 2008). Declining trends in school-age child pedestrian and bicycle crashes during school trip times were found for both SRTS focus sites and non-SRTS sites in the same States. Either no decrease or inconsistent patterns were found for other ages. The results suggested that the programs at least did not cause any adverse safety effects on total crash numbers although exposure data were lacking to know whether the amounts of biking and walking had changed. If children were walking and biking at higher rates in SRTS locations than in other areas, or the programs resulted in positive spillover effects to other areas, the programs may have reduced crash rates, although data were insufficient to test this. A later study of 801 schools found that engineering improvements were associated with an 18% increase in the percentage of students walking or biking to school, regardless of when the improvements were made (McDonald et al., 2014).
Education and encouragement programs were associated with a 5% increase per year in the percentage of children walking or biking to school. This increase was cumulative, so a school could expect to see a 25% increase over 5 years from education and encouragement efforts. In contrast, enforcement efforts were not associated with a significant change (McDonald et al., 2014). A detailed analysis of a specific SRTS implementation in Maryland found that using a combination of education, enforcement, and engineering programs resulted in a 79% decrease in the number of collisions within a quarter mile of targeted SRTS areas over the first 5 years of the program (Dunckel et al., 2014).
A 2013 study attempted to assess the safety effects of New York City’s SRTS program. Results were encouraging, but again, not conclusively so. The study compared school-aged pedestrian injury rates (by population) for traffic injuries that occurred during typical school travel times for census areas that had SRTS interventions compared to rates in areas with no such treatments (DiMaggio & Li, 2013). Census tracts that covered 30 schools with either short-term interventions (apparently low-cost engineering measures such as signs and crosswalk markings) or completed capital infrastructure improvement projects were included in the SRTS group. Although study design limitations preclude a conclusion that SRTS treatments were responsible, the trends were encouraging. Injury rates in census tract areas with SRTS treatments fell substantially compared to non-intervention areas, where injury levels remained virtually unchanged. Since schools were chosen for treatment because of high crash rates, it is likely that some of the crash reductions observed were due to a natural tendency for crashes to return toward an “average” level (known as regression toward the mean). A separate cost analysis study found that New York City’s SRTS program was cost effective when analyzed over just one cohort of intersection users (yielding an estimated savings of $224 million), and even more effective over the course of many years (Muenning et al., 2014). The authors concluded that SRTS programs can remain effective for decades, because of the engineering component.
Costs: Education and encouragement associated with SRTS may be low cost and may also be eligible for grant funding through the State, and perhaps other sources. Activities formerly eligible under Federal SR2S funding are now eligible under the TAP program outlined in MAP 21, but funding priorities are established by each State. State contacts may be located on the Safe Routes Partnership website (www.saferoutespartnership.org/safe-routes-school/srts-program/state-contacts), or search individual States’ DOT websites for information about TAP and SR2S funding. Material and resources can be accessed at no cost. NCSRTS provides downloadable material for State and local SRTS programs.
Time to implement: Once the 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 NCSRTS. Programs funded through State DOTs typically require applications on a funding cycle and can take significantly longer to implement.