Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Safe Routes to School?
- What is the rationale behind Safe Routes to School?
- What are the benefits of a Safe Routes to School program?
- Who should be involved with a Safe Routes to School program?
- What are the five E's?
- What is the federal Safe Routes to School Program?
- What are the statutory purposes of the SRTS program?
- When did Vermont's SRTS begin?
- Which schools have received funding and what did they receive funding for?
- How can I start a SRTS program at my school?
- What is the Vermont Safe Routes to School Resource Center?
- What does it mean to be a "Partner" of the Resource Center
- What does it mean to be a "Friend" of the Resource Center
- What is a walking audit?
- What is Walk to School Day, and how is it different from Safe Routes to School?
- What are the eligibility requirements?
- What is a Walking School Bus
- What is traffic calming?
Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is a worldwide movement–and now a federal program–to make it safe, convenient and fun for children to bicycle and walk to school. When routes are safe, walking and biking to school are fun, easy and inexpensive ways for students to get some of the daily physical activity they need for good health. Safe Routes to School initiatives also help ease traffic jams and air pollution, unite neighborhoods and contribute to students’ readiness to learn in school.
At its core, SRTS is a planning process: it's a process where local stakeholders work together to 1) identify barriers to safe walking and bicycling to school and 2) develop a plan to address those barriers using a combination of infrastructure and noninfrastructure treatments.
Most of today’s parents walked or biked to elementary school when they were young, according to a recent study conducted by the Federal Highway Administration. They explored their neighborhoods regularly on bike or on foot. As long as they behaved, they maintained a tremendous amount of independence, which resulted in a sense of self-assurance.
Things are much different today. Today’s children are driven to nearly all their activities, and only about 10 percent of children walk to school everyday. There are several reasons for this sharp decline. For one, the journey between home and school has become longer and more treacherous because of decades of auto-oriented development. This pattern has been compounded by the trend towards building new schools far away from residential areas. Then, too, there are the fears and concerns of parents about exposing their children to threats from strangers and motor vehicles. And finally, in many communities, sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and trails are either missing or inadequate.
A successful Safe Routes to School program benefits children in several ways. When routes are safe, walking or biking to and from school is an easy way for children to get the regular physical activity they need for good health. Studies have shown that physically active kids have improved mood and concentration, a stronger self-image, and more self-confidence. Physically active kids also have fewer chronic health problems and report lower levels of smoking and alcohol consumption.
It’s also fun! Research shows that walking or riding is children’s preferred method of getting to school. There’s so much to see, smell, touch, think, and talk about. By walking with friends, children will build relationships and learn more about their neighborhood, their friends, and themselves.
Safe Routes to School initiatives help the environment by easing traffic jams and curbing air pollution. Research has shown that 25% of morning traffic is parents driving their students to school. Fewer car trips also mean lower gasoline bills, a significant factor with today’s higher prices.
Anyone with a passion for children's health and safety should be involved with a SRTS program. School teams can include school administrators, teachers, parents, students, law enforcement officers, representatives from the local road authority, school district transportation directors, trail and bike group representatives, parks and recreation specialists, neighborhood association members, service groups, block clubs....the possibilities are nearly endless.
One of the cornerstones of Safe Routes to School is the acknowledgement that safer walking and biking routes can best be accomplished through a combination of infrastructure and noninfrastructure projects and programs. These are known collectively as the "5 Es": Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement, and Evaluation.
Education programs are primarily aimed at helping children build their pedestrian, bicycling, traffic, and social skills, but also include programs that educate parents and other motorists. Educational examples include pedestrian and bicycle safety workshops, personal safety training and brochures advising parents on correct pick-up/drop-off procedures. Educational programs are most effective if they are ongoing, rather than a one-time event.
Encouragement, through activities, programs, and contests, provides incentives for children to walk and ride to school. Examples include establishing walking clubs and mileage clubs and organizing walking school buses and bike trains.
Enforcement increases awareness and reduces the frequency of crime and traffic safety problems. Enforcement examples include enforcing traffic violations, enforcing pick-up and drop-off procedures, addressing environmental concerns such as abandoned houses, litter and dogs, and creating neighborhood watch programs.
Engineering includes improvements to the built environment that improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. These infrastructure improvements include traffic calming measures that reduce speed, improve street crossings and improve children's visibility and safety, installing sidewalks and bike paths, and improving safety where pedestrians cross streets.
Evaluation is the final "E". It is important for school teams to evaluate their programs on a regular basis to determine what is working, what isn't working, and what changes might be needed to make their program more effective. Evaluation also refers to data collection: surveying students and parents to assess their behavior and attitudes towards nonmotorized travel.
The federal Safe Routes to School program was created by Section 1404 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which was signed into public law (P.L. 109-59) on August, 10 2005. A total of $612 million was allocated to the states for Safe Routes to School programs and projects for FY 2005-2009. As of August 2010 the program is operating under a continuing resolution and is being funded at approximately the same level as FY 2009. Vermont has received a total of $6.6 million.
The purposes of the program, as defined in the legislation, are:
To enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school;
To make walking and biking to school safe and more appealing; and
To facilitate the planning, development and implementation of projects that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution in the vicinity of schools.
In 2004, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) participated in a Safe Routes to School pilot program held in three schools in the Chittenden County, VT. The Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) implemented the pilot program, and VTrans worked closely with the goal that it could use what was learned through this program to launch a statewide initiative when a national program and funding became available. This goal soon was realized when, in 2005, Congress passed the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. This act authorizes programs for highways, highway safety and transit, allowing Vermont to create a statewide SRTS program to encourage healthier kids and safer roads in school zones.
To date, over 70 schools have received over $4 million to implement Safe Routes to School projects and programs.To find out what schools in Vermont have been funded, visit the National Center for Safe Routes to School’s Interactive Map: http://maps.saferoutesinfo.org/
The first step is to register your school with the SRTS Resource Center. Schools may register by completing and returning a school partnership form. The next step is to complete a Partner Progress Report and carry out the planning activities. Both documents can be obtained from firstname.lastname@example.org .
VTrans launched the Safe Routes to School Resource Center to distribute non-infrastructure SRTS support to all interested schools. The primary goal of the Resource Center is to make it easy to participate in SRTS and to support more schools than ever before. The Center will provide schools with tools and assistance to build a successful and sustainable SRTS program—whether they are new to the program or have been participating for years.
Schools will not need to apply for grants or file for reimbursement for services provided by the Resource Center. Instead, schools will receive free program support and services upon demonstrating their commitment to developing and maintaining a SRTS program at their school and in return for achieving milestones set by VTrans.
The Resource Center is a one-stop shop for schools to find out about SRTS, get practical advice and information on training and funding opportunities, and learn about available resources in their region to help make walking and biking popular choices for kids traveling to and from school.
Schools who sign-up to be official partners with VTrans’ SRTS Resource Center will receive tailored assistance, customized incentive items, and recognition as their program grows. The partnership program includes four levels of participation from ‘Basic Partner’ for schools just starting out to ‘Platinum Partner’ for schools with a wide range of support services and active participation by students. Beginning at the Bronze level, schools will receive a corresponding VT SRTS seal to attach to program materials and a window decal to showcase at school entrances. As goals are achieved in each partnership level, schools can apply for the next seal.
The Resource Center will reach out to organizations and associations and encourage them to become Friends of VT SRTS by registering with the Resource Center. Friends may include statewide organizations like Fit and Healthy Kids, Regional Planning Commissions, and local organizations like the PTA or a village store. The Resource Center will connect schools with these organizations and facilitate opportunities to team up.
A walking audit (also known as a walking tour or environmental assessment) is a process where parents, school administrators, traffic engineers, and other community members tour the school property and adjacent neighborhoods to assess the barriers to safe walking and biking. Audits typically focus on the walking and biking routes currently used to travel to school, the walking and biking routes that could be used to travel to school and the school property itself, especially pick-up and drop-off sites used by busses and parents. These tours show stakeholders what students experience during their walk to school and give school teams first-hand evidence of existing safety problems.
Walk to School Day—like Safe Routes to School—is a school-based initiative to encourage physical activity among Vermont’s children and youth. Walk to School Day has become the kick-off event for Safe Routes to School, and is held the first Wednesday in October. It is a way for parents, students, school personnel and other community members to directly experience the walk or bike to school as they walk and bike with students on the day of the event. It often generates wider teaching about the importance of physical activity, awareness of the fun of walking and biking and early identification of safety concerns.
The Safe Routes to School program is available to all schools with at least one grade in the K-8 range. High schools are not eligible for federal funding unless they include at least one grade in the K-8 range. The school can be public, charter, tribal or private.
A walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. It works like this: an adult or group of adults walk along a set route to school. As they walk, they make “bus stops” and “pick up” other children along the way. Students can wear special shirts or colors to show they are "part of the train".
The Institute of Transportation Engineers defines traffic calming as “changes in street alignment, installation of barriers, and other physical measures to reduce traffic speeds and/or cut-through volumes in the interest of street safety, livability, and other public purposes.”
Traffic calming measures can include: street narrowing (reducing the number of lanes); the addition of speed bumps or speed humps; the addition of traffic circles or roundabouts; the addition of raised pedestrian crosswalks; the conversion of two-way streets to one-way streets; and the addition of curb extensions (also known as bulb-outs).