Fifty years ago, walking and biking to school were common – in 1969, roughly half of all students between the ages of 5 and 18 either walked or biked to school. Indeed, times have changed. According to data from the Safe Routes Partnership, today fewer than 15% of students engage in walking, biking, boarding, or other forms of active transportation to and from school. Many factors, including distance to school, safety concerns, and increasing amounts of time spent in sedentary activities, have contributed to greater dependence on vehicles for student commutes. This in turn negatively impacts overall student health and activity levels. The change in transportation mode has added to traffic congestion, a reduction in air quality, and the decline of our children’s health.
Safe Routes to School first started in the United States in the 1990’s with projects in a few cities. In 2005, Congress approved funding for implementation of Safe Routes to School programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. From 2005 to 2012, Safe Routes to School initiatives were funded through a standalone federal Safe Routes to School program. This program provided more than $1 billion in funding in all states to support infrastructure improvements and programming to make it safer for children to walk and bicycle to and from school.
In June 2012, Congress passed a new transportation bill, MAP-21. This legislation made significant changes to funding for bicycling, walking and Safe Routes to School. The federal Safe Routes to School program was combined with other bicycling and walking programs into a program called Transportation Alternatives. Safe Routes to School projects are called out as being eligible for Transportation Alternatives, but no minimum funding level is required. This funding stream was locked in for five additional years–with some changes–when Congress passed a new transportation law, the FAST Act, in December 2015.
The goals of SRTS are:
Communities use different approaches to make it safer for children to walk and bicycle to and from school and to increase the number of children doing so. The East Central Wisconsin Regional Safe Routes to School program focuses on empowering local communities and school districts with the resources and knowledge needed to implement SRTS activities. By working to make it safer and more appealing for students to walk and bike to school, the Regional SRTS Program is continually making strides to improve childhood health, reduce traffic congestion and pollution, and create more livable communities. Programming is designed around key components put forth by the Safe Routes Partnership, a national organization working to advance safe walking and rolling to and from schools. These components provide an organizing framework and are known as the six E’s. They include Education, Encouragement, Engagement, Equity , Engineering, and Evaluation.
EDUCATION activities teach students, parents/guardians, drivers near the school, and neighbors about traffic safety and create awareness of the benefits and goals of SRTS. Providing students and the community with the knowledge and skills to walk and bicycle safely. Education is often linked to encouragement.
ENCOURAGEMENT strategies generate excitement and interest in walking and bicycling to school. Safe Routes to School helps your school community organize customizable programs and events that encourage students, parents, teachers, and the local community to try walking and bicycling to school and celebrating and rewarding their efforts.
ENGAGEMENT with children, parents, school staff, the community, and local law enforcement to support proper walking and bicycling behaviors can foster lifelong participation in physical activity and create positive attitudes and enjoyment among the children and the staff.
EQUITY will ensure that Safe Routes to School initiatives are benefitting all demographic groups with particular attention to ensuring safe, healthy, and fair outcomes for low-income students, students of color, students of all genders, students with disabilities, and others.
ENGINEERING strategies include planning and implementing physical improvements that make it safer and more attractive to walk and bicycle to school. Assessments, such as walk and bike audits, will help identify physical barriers and opportunities for improvements to sidewalks and intersections.
EVALUATION helps measure the impact of our efforts. Using various evaluation tools, SRTS staff gather data to better understand existing environmental conditions and current behaviors regarding walking and biking. Evaluation allows us to track trends over time and can aid in the allocation of resources to improve walking and bicycling near schools.
For more information on the East Central Wisconsin Regional Safe Routes to School program, please visit http://eastcentralsrts.org.