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
- Commute Mode Share
- Complete Streets Policies
- Land Use Mix
- Miles Traveled by Mode
- Physical Activity from Transportation
- Road Traffic Fatalities by Mode
- Public transportation Trips per Capita
- Use of Federal Funds for Bicycle and Pedestrian Efforts
- VMT per Capita
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 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 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.
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