Although new to Arkansas, people in other states and countries are well aware of the Safe Routes To School Program.
Research on the safety of children walking and bicycling to school began in the United States in the early 1970s and was highlighted by release of the United States Department of Transportation publication “School Trip Safety and Urban Play Areas” in 1975. The term “Safe Routes To School” was first used in Denmark in the late 1970s as part of a very successful initiative to reduce the number of children killed while walking and bicycling to school. Safe Routes To School spread internationally, with programs springing up throughout Europe and in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
The first modern Safe Routes To School Program in the United States began in 1997 in Bronx, New York. In 1998, Congress funded two pilot Safe Routes To School Programs through the United States Department of Transportation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued $50,000 each for Safe Routes To School pilot programs in Marin County, California and Arlington, Massachusetts. Within a year after the launch of the pilot programs, many other grassroots Safe Routes To School efforts were started throughout the United States.
As word spread in the pedestrian and bicyclist community of success with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pilot programs, interest in a broader program grew. Efforts to include a larger Safe Routes To School Program in Federal legislation began in earnest in 2002. In 2003, the League of American Bicyclists organized the first meeting of leaders in pedestrian and bicycle issues to talk about Safe Routes To School issues and how a national program might work. At the same time, a number of states were developing their own Safe Routes To School Programs, continuing to build momentum for the movement.
In July 2005, Congress passed Federal legislation that established a National Safe Routes To School Program. The program, which was signed into law in August 2005, dedicates a total of $612 million to the Safe Routes To School Program from 2005 to 2009. The Federal Highway Administration administers the Safe Routes To School Program funds and provides guidance and regulations about Safe Routes To School Programs. Federal Safe Routes To School funds will be distributed to states based on student enrollment, with no state receiving less than $1 million per year. Safe Routes To School funds can be used for both infrastructure projects and non-infrastructure activities. The legislation also requires each state to have a Safe Routes To School Coordinator to serve as a central point of contact for the state.
With the National Safe Routes To School Program, there will be a significant increase in funds and institutional support to implement Safe Routes To School Programs in states and communities across the country. So a new chapter in the history of Safe Routes To School Programs might soon be written as the benefits of communities and states establishing and advancing Safe Routes Programs and issues are learned.