Almost four years ago, Congress passed federal transportation legislation that established the national Safe Routes to School program. Local, regional and national efforts to increase safe walking and bicycling for school children have burgeoned since that time. The majority of state programs are well underway and local programs are thriving. Today, a strong network of State Coordinators and local program leaders, an engaged group of advocates and an increasing body of knowledge on "what works," are helping the federal program come into its own.
State programs, operated through each state's Department of Transportation, receive federal funding support to encourage and enable increased safe walking and bicycling to school. The national program also supports a clearinghouse called the National Center for Safe Routes to School which provides technical assistance, training, resources, evaluation and nationwide promotion of Safe Routes to School.
The National Center, established in May 2006, is now completing its third year. The focus of its work has evolved to keep pace with the changing needs of maturing state and local programs. The National Center supports the work of local and state programs and monitors national progress in many ways. Work this past year has ranged from facilitation of State Coordinator information-sharing to training development and delivery to design and implementation of a national data collection system.
The National Center for Safe Routes to School supports three basic objectives of the federal Safe Routes to School program:
- Enable and encourage children to walk and bicycle to school;
- Improve the safety of children walking and bicycling to school; and
- Facilitate projects and activities that will reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution near schools.
Whether they are initiated through federal, state or local funding sources, SRTS programs provide an opportunity to make walking and bicycling to school a safe and routine activity for future generations of school children. The National Center's mission is to support SRTS programs in such a way that communities are motivated and able to sustain these programs beyond the extent of dedicated federal funds.
As of June 2008, 46 states and the District of Columbia had announced funding for local or statewide SRTS activities and approximately 3,212 schools were participating in federally funded SRTS programs. One year later, all states and the District of Columbia had announced local or statewide SRTS activities and the number of schools benefiting from the federally funded SRTS program reached 5,462.
Demand for the SRTS program remains solid, as evidenced by the number of funding applications states have received and the dollar amount requested by those applicants. Through June 30, 2009, states have received 7,328 program applications with 39 percent of those being selected for funding. Collectively, states continue to supply approximately 28 percent of $1.3 billion in funds requested for local and statewide SRTS activities.
The following is a summary of work conducted, with assistance from its partners, from July 2008 though June 2009.
The work of the National Center encompasses five core functions:
- This represents the National Center's commitment to create capacity for the federal Safe Routes to School program. This is accomplished through its Web sites, online resource guide, tip sheets, listserv, and other means of communicating current information, research findings and best practices for audiences ranging from the general public to the SRTS State Coordinators.
- The training function works hand in hand with technical assistance. The National Center has developed courses and an instructor training to address the various educational needs of the states and communities. The National Center has dedicated funds to provide two free trainings per state over a five year period as well as increasing access to training opportunities by expanding web-based options.
- This encompasses the National Center's work to build demand for SRTS and includes marketing targeted toward parents, students, schools, communities and state governments. At the heart of the marketing activities is support for International Walk to School Day. The National Center serves as national coordinator for U.S. events, and hosts the Web site for the international movement.
- The National Center reports on the numbers of schools funded and amounts of funding awarded by state SRTS programs. New this year, it also maintains a database of project descriptions.
- The National Center supports local programs in collecting student travel and parent perception data. Housing this data in aggregate form informs three National Center evaluation projects.
About the National Center for Safe Routes to School
The National Center for Safe Routes to School assists communities in enabling and encouraging children to safely walk and bicycle to school. The National Center is maintained by the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.
The National Center for Safe Routes to School works in collaboration with a network of national organizations and experts from across the country. Partners in this effort include:
- American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
- America Walks
- Governor's Highway Safety Association
- Institute of Transportation Engineers
- Toole Design Group