What is Safe Routes to Schools?
Did you walk or bike to school when you were young?
In 1969, 50% of all children walked to school1. Walking or biking to school gives children a taste of freedom and responsibility, allows them to enjoy the fresh air, and gives them the opportunity to get to know their neighborhood. They arrive at school alert, refreshed, and ready to start their day.
Yet most American children are denied this experience – today, only 15% of America's children walk or bike to school2. According to local studies, up to 27% of morning traffic is attributed to parents driving their children to school. This has caused increased traffic congestion around schools, prompting even more parents to drive their kids. The consequences to our children, to their health and to the health of the community are extensive.
A successful Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) program improves the health and safety of pupils and the surrounding community. Students increase their physical activity, potentially improving their alertness and behavior. California studies have shown that children who are physically active perform better academically3. Safe Routes to Schools can also satisfy the physical activity component of your Wellness Policy. Communities with existing programs have experienced reduced traffic congestion, fewer collisions in and around schools, and decreased vehicular speeds in residential neighborhoods. Children learn valuable traffic safety skills and responsibility, and more people of all ages are able to walk and bike in the neighborhood as a result of improved access.
SR2S in Action
The mission of Safe Routes to Schools is to increase the number of children walking and biking to school. Our initiative integrates health, fitness, traffic relief, environmental awareness, and safety all under one program. It’s an opportunity to work closely with schools, communities, and local government to create a healthy lifestyle for children—and a safer and cleaner environment for everyone. The program consists of five focus areas:
EDUCATION – Classroom lessons teach children the skills necessary to navigate through busy streets and persuade them to be active participants in the program. Safe Routes instructors have developed the curriculum that includes lessons on safety, health, and the environment.
ENCOURAGEMENT – Encouragement strategies, such as events, contests and promotional materials, encourage children and parents to try walking and biking to school. The program supports and coordinates volunteer organizers and provides schools with promotional and contest materials, prizes, and ongoing consultation.
ENGINEERING – The focus of the engineering component is on creating physical improvements to infrastructure near schools, reducing speeds and establishing safer crosswalks and pathways. The Program’s professional traffic engineers assist schools in developing a plan to provide a safer environment for children to walk and bike to school. The improvements are implemented at the direction of the local jurisdiction public works staff.
ENFORCEMENT – Police officers and other law enforcement officials participate throughout the Safe Routes process to encourage safe travel through the community. Targeted enforcement of speed limits and other traffic laws around schools make the trip to school more predictable for students and allow them to interact with motorists and other travelers in the safest possible way. The program also includes unique safety-related messaging, enforcement enhancements and outreach to drivers through driver safety campaigns.
EQUITY – Recently introduced to the SR2S framework as a sixth “E”, Equity aims to promote egalitarian support of safe, active, and healthy school travel opportunities for all children within the county. In recent years, Marin SR2S has worked to promote equitable distribution of program resources to students countywide. A bi-lingual volunteer coordinator works with Spanish-speaking parents in the school to organize events and give them a voice in assessing safety concerns.
The TAM Safe Routes to School Program
Marin County’s Safe Routes to School is a program of the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM). TAM has created a long-term sustainable program that is institutionalized in schools with strong community involvement. The program currently operates in over 58 schools, serving a total population of about 20,000 students. The program provides professional instructors to teach safe bicycling and pedestrian safety skills and oversee volunteers in promoting the program through contests, events, and regular submissions to the school newsletter. Each school district is offered a facilitated Task Force that brings together the school volunteers with school and jurisdictional staff to discuss infrastructure and enforcement issues, and to plan out district-wide promotion. The consulting team consists of planning and engineering professionals to assist in identifying Safe Routes solutions and seeking funding for implementation.
The program has grown to include:
a Teens Go Green program in middle and high schools
SchoolPool Marin which provides tools for your school
to initiate a trip-matching program
the Street Smarts program in selected cities and towns
The Distracted Driving campaign for High Schools
In 2010, Marin Safe Routes to Schools was honored with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC) Grand Award. The award was shared by Cool the Earth of Kentfield, Street Smarts of San Jose and Cycles of Change in Alameda County. MTC’s biennial awards ceremony, Excellence in Motion, recognizes people, projects, and organizations that have made singular contributions to improving the Bay Area’s transportation. SR2S was recognized for its excellent school education program that promotes walking and bicycling to schools in Marin.
1 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
2 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3 California Department of Education, December 2002