What Is Safe Routes To School
In recent decades, the number of students walking or biking to school has sharply declined. During the same period, an alarming upward trend of childhood obesity and physical inactivity has occurred. Students being driven to school generates substantial traffic congestion and contributes to air pollution that affects the health of everyone in our communities.
Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs are part of the solution to reversing these trends. SRTS programs aim at increasing the number of students who choose active (walking, bicycling, scooter, skateboarding) or shared (public transit, carpooling) mode of transportation to school by making it safer and more accessible to walk, bicycle and/or take transit.
The “Six E’s Plus" Approach
SRTS programs support the goal of creating a safer environment for students to walk, bicycle or take public transit to school -- but SRTS is not one-size-fits-all. What works at one school may not work at another, and SRTS relies on a menu of activities and programming that can be customized by local champions to best fit the need of schools and local community. Most SRTS efforts can be organized into the following elements, commonly referred to as the “Six E’s.” A comprehensive SRTS program will include all Six E’s in order to complement and reinforce the goals of safe, healthy and active transportation to and from school.
Encouragement – Events, activities and contests that spark interest in both students and parents in walking and biking to school, reward participation, promote the personal and community benefits of SRTS, and make walking or biking to school fun.
Education – Classes and activities that teach students, parents and community members safe walking and bicycling skills including safe driving behavior. In addition, programs for parents and school staff to learn about safety tips and how to develop and sustain a SRTS program.
Engineering – Infrastructure improvements (signage, crosswalks, traffic signals, etc) designed to improve the safety of people walking, bicycling, and driving along school routes.
Enforcement – Strategies to deter the unsafe behavior of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians, and educate all users on obeying traffic laws and following appropriate drop-off and pick-up procedures.
Evaluation – Tracking progress through regular counts, surveys, and other data collection to determine impact on student travel behavior as well as effectiveness of specific program elements.
Equity – Should be integrated into all aspects of SRTS. Acknowledgement of the different challenges and barriers that students face is important to ensure that Safe Routes to School initiatives are benefiting all demographic groups. Equity, as it relates to SRTS, is about ensuring all students have safe access to and from school.
Plus – Partnership plays a key role in SRTS efforts, as the programs are typically led and sustained through extensive cooperation among SRTS champions and key stakeholders, such as parents, schools and school districts, law enforcement, public health organizations, local government agencies, non-profit groups and community members. When developing and/or sustaining your SRTS programs, look for opportunities to collaborate with other ongoing efforts that share similar objectives. Such efforts may include school wellness programs, traffic fatality reduction policies, gang violence reduction, and youth development activities.