Safe Routes to School Programs

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is an approach that promotes walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements, enforcement, tools, safety education, and incentives to encourage walking and bicycling to school. Nationally, 10%–14% of car trips during morning rush hour are for school travel. SRTS initiatives improve safety and levels of physical activity for students. SRTS programs can be implemented by a department of transportation, metropolitan planning organization, local government, school district, or even a school. Extensive resources are available through a national center, including an SRTS Guide, parent surveys and student tallies, and simple strategies, such as the walking school bus, that schools can use to support bicycling and walking.

Related Transportation and Heath Tool Indicators

How can this strategy result in health benefits?

  • Address chronic disease
  • Increase physical activity
  • Improve safety
  • Reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities
  • Reduce transportation's contribution to air pollution

How has this worked in practice?

Alpine Elementary School, Utah

Alpine Elementary School in Utah used federal SRTS funding during 2008–2010 to develop a program to address barriers to walking to school, including traffic congestion and safety concerns. The school used various strategies, including assemblies, poster contests, pedestrian safety walks, and a bicycle rodeo, to encourage children and their families to shift habits to a less car-focused commute. An incentive for participation in the SRTS came from Candle Light, Alpine’s sister school in Kenya. For every 10 miles that a student walked or biked, Alpine donated 40 cents from community donations that would purchase one week’s worth of lunches for a student at Candle Light.

The “The Meals for Miles” program involved 100% of Alpine students in developing a healthy lifestyle, safety etiquette, and positive character traits. The percentage of students who regularly walked and bicycled to school increased from 35% in 2008 to 50% in 2010. The school also reported a 36% reduction in car traffic and an increase from 25% to 70% of students who walk and bicycle to school daily. The program also supported an ongoing partnership by the school with Utah’s Gold Medal Schools program to reduce overweight and obesity rates in elementary schools and promote good nutrition and regular physical activity. The school’s SRTS program has also been recognized by the First Lady’s Let's Move initiative.

Roosevelt Middle School, Eugene, OR

Roosevelt Middle School formed a School Wellness Committee in 2005 to address health and safety issues. Those included concerns about traffic congestion, safety hazards for walkers and bicyclists, and a lack of adequate bicycle parking racks. The committee included parents, school officials, community members, and a University of Oregon professor. City officials and staff, including engineers, planners, and public transportation officials, also served on the committee. A pilot program began in 2007 with federal funding for an SRTS coordinator, presentation equipment, bicycle helmets, safety vests, and incentives for events. These investments were met with contributions of in-kind services and equipment by the middle school. During the 2007–08 school year, 22% of sixth graders participating in a bicycle safety program. The school set a goal to achieve 100% participation in subsequent program years. In addition to the SRTS funds, the school received a Eugene Education Fund grant to buy bicycles for a training course. Other SRTS program elements have included regular walk and bicycle to school events, presentations about SRTS for parents, and continued encouragement to reduce parent drop-offs at school. The SRTS program at Roosevelt has also helped increase physical activity for students. The percentage of children walking or bicycling to school increased from 27% in 2007 to 42% in 2010. The school also reported a decrease of 59 motor vehicles per day bringing children to school, a 24% reduction. Roosevelt Middle School is one of six schools included in a $500,000 SRTS federal grant awarded to the city of Eugene in 2010 to make infrastructure improvements to improve walking and bicycling conditions

Where can I learn more?

NHTSA provides SRTS information about education, enforcement, and community engagement efforts, with a particular emphasis on safety.

National Center for Safe Routes to School (NCSRTS) has extensive resources and tools available to support implementation of SRTS programs, as well as contact information for each state’s SRTS coordinator.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership works to set goals, share best practices, leverage infrastructure and program funding, and advance policy change to help agencies that implement Safe Routes to School programs.

County Health Rankings and Road Maps includes information on methods for making communities healthier, including a description of the connection between SRTS and health.

Safe Routes to School and Health: Understanding the Physical Activity Benefits of Walking and Biking to School from the NCSRTS is a study of current information about the physical activity benefits of walking and biking to school and how they can be measured in the future.

Promoting active transportation: An opportunity for public health from the American Public Health Association and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership provides an introduction and orientation as to why and how health should be considered in transportation planning and decision making.

Evidence base

Alexander LM, Inchley J, Todd J, Currie D, Cooper AR, Currie C. The broader impact of walking to school among adolescents. BMJonline 2005;331(7524):1061-2.

Chillón P, Evenson KR, Vaughn A, Ward DS. A systematic review of interventions for promoting active transportation to school. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011;8:10.

Davison KK, Werder JL, Lawson CT. Children’s active commuting to school: Current knowledge and future directions. Preventing Chronic Disease 2008;5(3).

DiMaggio C, Li G. Effectiveness of a Safe Routes to School Program in Preventing School-Aged Pedestrian Injury. Pediatrics 2013;131(2):290-296.

Hume C, Timperio A, Salmon J, Carver A, Giles-Corti B, Crawford D. Walking and cycling to school: predictors of increases among children and adolescents. American Journal of Preventative Medicine 2009;36:195–200.

Johnston C, Moreno J. Active commuting to school. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine 2012;6(4):303-305.

Kerr J, Rosenberg D, Sallis JF, Saelens BE, Frank LD, Conway TL. Active commuting to school: associations with environment and parental concerns. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2006;38:787-794.

Larsen K, Gilliland J, Hess P, Tucker P, Irwin J, He M. The influence of the physical environment and sociodemographic characteristics on children's mode of travel to and from school. American Journal of Public Health 2009;99:520–526.

Lubans DR, Boreham CA, Kelly P, Foster CE. The relationship between active travel to school and health-related fitness in children and adolescents: A systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2011;8:5.

Mendoza JA, Watson K, Baranowski T, Nicklas TA, Uscanga DK, Hanfling MJ. The walking school bus and children’s physical activity: A pilot cluster randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics 2011;128(3):e537–e544.

Muennig PA, Epstein M, Li G, DiMaggio C. The Cost-Effectiveness of New York City's Safe Routes to School Program. American Journal of Public Health 2014;104(7):1294-9.

National Center for Safe Routes to School (NCSRTS). How Children Get to School: School Travel Patterns from 1969 to 2009. Chapel Hill, NC: NCSRTS; 2011.

National Center for Safe Routes to School (NCSRTS). Shifting modes: A comparative analysis of Safe Routes to School Program elements and travel mode outcomes. Chapel Hill, NC: NCSRTS; 2012.

Orenstein MR, Gutierrez N, Rice TM, Cooper JF, Ragland DR. Safe routes to school safety and mobility analysis. Berkeley: UC Berkeley, Traffic Safety Center, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans); 2007.

Ragland DR, Pande S, Bigham J, Cooper J. Ten years later - examining the long-term impact of the California Safe Routes to School Program. Berkley, CA: UC Berkley, Safe Transportation Research & Education Center; 2013.

Updated: Monday, October 26, 2015
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