Safe Routes To School Planning Grant Award
Through the Arkansas Safe Routes To School Program Planning Grants are awarded. The purpose of these grants will be to create school-specific Safe Routes To School Plan.
Starting a Safe Routes To School Program is an opportunity to make walking and bicycling to school safer for children and to increase the number of children who choose to walk and bike. It is also the first step in creating a locally driven comprehensive Safe Routes To School plan. On a broader level, Safe Routes To School Programs can enhance children’s health and well-being; ease traffic congestion near schools; improve air quality and improve community members’ overall quality of life. The steps outlined in this section are meant to provide guidance by providing a framework for establishing a Safe Routes To School Program based on what has worked in other communities. Some communities may find that a different approach or a re-ordering of these steps works better for them. For more information on forming a Safe Routes To School coalition and developing your comprehensive Safe Routes To School plan, contact the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department or refer to the Safe Routes To School Toolkit on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website:
Identify people who want to make walking and bicycling to school safe and appealing for children. Sharing concerns, interests and knowledge among a variety of community members with diverse expertise can enable groups to tackle many different issues.
Consider whether the group wants to plan for Safe Routes To School in a single school, district-wide or at another level. Each has potential benefits; for example, a school district-wide group could create policies that would impact all schools while a school-specific group could work on detailed issues relating to that school and dedicate more resources to that one location.
Look for existing groups where a Safe Routes To School Program is a natural fit, such as a city or school district safety committee, PTA, school site council, Wellness Council or a pedestrian and bicycle advisory board. If there are no appropriate groups to take on the issue, form a Safe Routes To School coalition. When asking for participation, explain why Safe Routes To School is needed and tell people specifically how they can help.
Involve children in the Safe Routes To School Program to learn what is important to them with respect to their journey to school and around their neighborhood. Ask them questions like: Do they like being driven everywhere by their parents? Would they rather walk and bike around their neighborhoods? What do they think about their route to school and what would they change about their trip to school?
Communities with flourishing Safe Routes To School Programs have attributed their success in part to a program champion - someone who has enthusiasm and time to provide leadership for the group and keep things moving. However, a champion cannot do it alone – he or she will need support. Building the next generation of leaders along the way will assure that the program continues. This is particularly important when the champion is a parent who is likely to move on when their child transitions to another school.
Potential Coalition Members
Different communities will find different organizations and individuals ready to be involved. This list is not exhaustive, but is intended to provide ideas for the creation of a well-rounded group that represents a wide range of interests and expertise that are related to Safe Routes To School.
- Principal and other administrators
- Parents and students
- Teachers (physical education or health teachers are a good place to start)
- PTA/PTO representative
- School nurse
- School district transportation director
- School improvement team or site council member
- Adult school crossing guards
- High school Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) Labs
- Community members
- Neighborhood or community association members
- Local businesses
- Local pedestrian, bicycle and safety advocates
- Local government
- Mayor’s office or council member
- Transportation or traffic engineer
- Local planner
- Public health professional
- Public works representative
- Law enforcement officer
- State or local pedestrian and bicycle coordinator
Hold a kick-off meeting
The kick-off meeting has two main goals - to create a vision and to generate next steps. Parents, students, neighbors, school faculty and administration members, city officials, community planners, and others should be invited to attend. One approach is to ask each participant to share a vision for the school five years in the future. Responses are often statements such as: ‘a school with fewer cars at the entrance’, ‘more active children’ and ‘safe walkways’. This focuses the group on the positive — what they would like to have, rather than what is wrong. Another way to create a positive vision is to ask people to share a positive memory of walking or bicycling to school when they were young. Provide a presentation on Safe Routes To School Programs including issues and strategies related to engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement and evaluation. The group can then discuss the appropriate next steps and best way to work toward their vision. This may include forming committees to separate out the tasks.
Coalitions sometimes create committees to take on the major tasks, allowing members to focus on a specific activity related to their skills and interests. Some possible Safe Routes To School committees include:
- Mapping and Information Gathering Committee: Obtains maps, collects information about where children live, the routes they take to school and the condition of the streets along the way.
- Outreach Committee: Collects input from parents, teachers and students and publicizes the program to the school and community.
- Education and Encouragement Activities Committee: Works closely with school administration and teachers to put education and encouragement activities in place, gathers materials for activities including Walk To School (www.walktoschool.org) and Walking School Bus (www.walkingschoolbus.org) events, and solicits donations for programming and prizes.
- Enforcement and Engineering Committee: Develops recommendations for enforcement and engineering solutions. Works closely with local government and other resources to find funding and make improvements.
- Traffic Safety Committee: Identifies unsafe drivers’ behavior and develops an education campaign to increase awareness.
Steps To Developing A Safe Routes To School Plan
Involve your coalition members to develop a comprehensive Safe Routes To School plan including recommendations for educational programs and infrastructure projects. Utilize your committee structure to collect and analyze the data. The Safe Routes To School plan does not need to be lengthy but should include encouragement, enforcement, education, engineering, evaluation strategies, a time schedule for each part of these strategies and a map of the area covered by the plan. Strategies that can be implemented early will help the group feel successful and can build momentum and support for long-term activities. Be sure to include fun activities; that is what encouragement is all about.
Identify where your students live and determine how they are currently getting to school. A survey completed by students and their parents is a useful tool. They can also identify real or perceived barriers to walking and biking to school. Coalition members should make observations of the students who currently walk and bike to school. These observations can help identify specific practices on which to focus educational programs and locations where infrastructure projects may be needed. Remember, when dealing with children in elementary and middle school, it is often easier to modify their environment than to change their habits.
Assess the walking and biking environment around your school. Get out and walk the same routes the students use. Create an inventory of sidewalks and trails and make an assessment of their quality including hazards, gaps and other barriers. Street crossings and school zone signs and pavement markings should also be inventoried and assessed. Your Safe Routes To School coalition members can form small groups to conduct these inventories. Each member of a group should list the top three concerns on each route assessed. Each group should in turn list the top three concerns for each route.
Determine traffic counts and patterns including the speed of vehicles passing through school zones. This step is easily accomplished if your coalition has representatives of local law enforcement agencies and community planners or traffic engineers as members.
Use maps to indicate the locations of these resources. The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department can assist you by providing maps. Check to see if your local high school has an Environmental and Spatial Technology Lab. These students can be a great deal of assistance by using geographic information system technology to map the locations of students, sidewalks, trails, school zone marking and signs, hazards, and other barriers to biking and walking.
Based on information you collect and the maps you develop, your Safe Routes To School coalition will be able to identify and prioritize a list of recommendations for potential improvements. Make sure you involve city officials and city planners in your coalition and solicit their input regarding these improvements. This list will compose the infrastructure portion of your plan and may offer potential focus areas for the important educational component of your Safe Routes To School plan.
Your Safe Routes To School coalition education committee can use the information collected in the previous steps to develop programs targeting school children, their parents, and individuals driving through school zones. These programs should focus on improving the safety of children as they walk and bike to school, demonstrating the health benefits of walking and biking to school, and creating a positive community wide attitude toward walking and biking to school as viable alternatives.
Fund the Plan
Parts of a Safe Routes To School Program will cost very little money. For example, most International Walk to School Day coordinators say they spend less than $100 on their events. There are many low-cost engineering solutions that can be put into place in a relatively short amount of time such as new signs or fresh paint on crosswalks. On the other hand, some changes, such as new sidewalk construction, may need large amounts of capital. There are several places to seek funding for Safe Routes To School Program activities including:
- Health and physical activity funds,
- County and city funding, and
- Philanthropic organizations.
For more information about these funding resources, see Legislation and Funding at www.saferoutesinfo.org
Act On the Plan
There are things that can be done right away without major funding, so some parts of the Safe Routes To School plan can start right away while waiting on other parts. Hold a fun-filled kick-off event and invite the media. For example, participate in International Walk to School Day or celebrate a Walking Wednesday. If the school is located too far for children to walk from home, identify places where families can park and walk part of the way. If improvements are needed before children can walk to school, start walking activities before, during or after school right on the school grounds. Enforcement, education, encouragement and engineering strategies will all come together as pieces of the plan are implemented.
Evaluate, Make Improvements and Keep Moving
After the program begins, careful monitoring will identify which strategies are increasing the number of children safely walking and bicycling to school. Proper adjustments can be made as this and other new information is gathered. One simple evaluation measure is to re-count the number of walkers and bicyclists and compare this number to the findings in Step 3 (the baseline count). For a summary of ways to measure impact, see:
The coalition also needs to consider how to sustain energy and interest in the program so that children continue to walk and bicycle to school safely. Key strategies for keeping the program going are as follows:
- Identifying Additional Program Champions
Letting people know about the successes: Get visibility for activities through local media and school communications and publicize your activities. Making the work fun and positive makes it more likely that people will want to continue and others will want to become involved.
- Encouraging Policy Changes
These might be school, school-district or local government policies that support children walking and bicycling to school. For example, local planning departments may promote new school construction within walking and bicycling distance of residential areas. School district adoption of a safety curriculum means that the pedestrian and bicycle education will continue to be provided to children.
- Creating a Permanent Committee
A permanent committee within the Parent-Teacher Program, school site council or other group means that the Safe Routes To School Program will continue to receive attention and energy.
A Safe Routes To School Program has the potential to improve walking and bicycling conditions near a school and spread interest into other parts of the community. Coalitions that persist in their efforts and make measurable improvements based on their evaluation will be rewarded with safer places for children to walk and bike and more children choosing safe routes to school.
Reimbursement for a Safe Routes Planning Grant Award will be based on the following:
- Proof that a public meeting was held to kick-off the Safe Routes To School process,
- The formulation of a Safe Routes coalition with widespread representation from the school and community,
- Preparing a SRTS Plan
- Proof of successfully carrying out a Safe Routes To School event such as Walk to School Day.
- Conducting a in-class survey and distributing and collecting a take-home survey.