What is Safe Routes to Schools?
Photo: Jeremy Thornton
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 four focus areas:
Encouragement – Events, contests, and promotional materials offer incentives that encourage children and parents to try walking and biking. We can provide your community with materials and support.
Education – Classroom lessons teach children the skills necessary to navigate through busy streets and persuade them to be active participants in the program. We have developed curriculum, which includes traffic safety and lessons on health and the environment. In Marin County, we provide trained instructors to come into your classroom.
Engineering – Examines the physical barriers that prohibit children from safely navigating the routes to schools. We provide engineering expertise to assist your community in evaluating the obstacles that prohibit safe walking and bicycling to school.
Enforcement – We work with law enforcement to increase the police presence around schools. Driver’s education is even more effective in changing the behavior of harried parents and commuters who are not paying attention to the children on the roads. We have accumulated some of the best tools in the country to assist you in developing a comprehensive traffic safety program.
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 50 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 trip-matching program
the Street Smarts program in selected cities and towns
In the 2009-2010 school year, the Green Ways to School campaign succeeded in reducing single student car trips by 5%, resulting in reduction of 264 tons of CO2 and 980 fewer daily car trips.
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