Safe Routes Marin History

bike walk and bus

2003 photo by Mark McLane

A brief history of this successful community program

In August 2000, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration funded the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) and Walk Boston in Arlington, MA to develop a national model Safe Routes to Schools program. Congressman James Oberstar (MN), ranking Democrat of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, endorsed the program as a means to reduce traffic congestion around schools and promote healthy alternatives. The Marin Community Foundation supplemented the program with a $25,000 grant, and the City of Fairfax also received $25,000 as one of ten pilot programs sponsored by the California Department of Health Services.

Marin County is a suburban community north of San Francisco with many historic small towns and miles of open space. Despite its low population growth, traffic congestion has grown increasingly worse, with up to 21–27% of the morning commute consisting of parents driving their children to school (Marin Congestion Management Agency). Sixty-two percent of the County's CO2 emissions are attributed to transportation, causing environmentally conscious Marin to have a higher ecological footprint than the national average.

Nine Test Cases

To demonstrate the benefits of providing Safe Routes to Schools, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition recruited nine pilot schools in four different geographic locations.  Initial surveys reported that 62% of the students were arriving by car, with only 14% walking, 7% biking to school, 11% carpool, and 6% arriving by bus.  Each school received guidance, forms, newsletters and other promotional materials. In Mill Valley and Ross Valley, schools joined to form citywide Task Forces to study engineering solutions for safety issues present on the routes to schools. Parisi Associates, a transportation consulting firm, assisted in developing these plans. Every school in the pilot program held periodic Walk and Bike to School Days and participated in the Frequent Rider Miles contest, which rewarded children who came to school walking, biking, by carpool or bus. Volunteer team leaders at each school assisted in running the events and contests and attended the Task Force meeting providing valuable insights into the difficulty that parents faced when walking or biking to school.  These enthusiastic parent volunteers were key to the success of the program.

At the end of the pilot program, the participating schools experienced a 57% increase in the number of children walking and biking and a 29% decrease in the number of children arriving alone in a car.

Building on Marin’s Success

In 2003, the County of Marin adopted the Safe Routes to Schools program.  The Marin Congestion Management Agency funded the program through the Federal Enhancements program and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s Transportation for Clean Air funding award.  In November 2004, the voters of Marin passed a ½-cent, 20-year transportation sales tax, which dedicates 11% for Safe Routes to Schools programs, crossing guards, and Safe Routes infrastructure. The Transportation Authority of Marin took over the program in 2005.

The Transportation Authority of Marin's Safe Access to School program has three components: A Crossing Guard Program providing over 70 crossing guards to Marin County schools; The Safe Pathways program which distributes approximately $2.5 million in funding every two years; and the Education and Encouragement program.  A citizens oversight committee evaluates all the programs of the sales tax spending every year.  As a result of the programs more than half of Marin County students walk, bike, carpool or take a bus to school. .

Safe Routes Goes National

After successful pilot programs in Marin and in Arlington, MA, the Safe Routes to Schools program quickly spread across the country.  In 2005, the SAFETEA-LU federal transportation bill provided $612 million for a new national Safe Routes to Schools program that provides benefits in all 50 states. Communities have used this funding to construct new bike lanes, pathways, and sidewalks, as well as launch Safe Routes education and promotion campaigns in elementary and middle schools.  Each state has hired a full time Safe Routes to Schools coordinator. Congress has subsequently eliminated the specific funding for Safe Routes to Schools but continues to offer competitive funding through the Transportation Alternatives program.

Marin County continues to be a national leader with new innovative programs and by becoming the first long-term sustainable program with a dedicated local funding source.  You can find out how to start a similar program in your community by visiting our resource page.