CHAPEL HILL — The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC) has been awarded $6 million in funding to assist communities in enabling and encouraging children to safely walk and bike to school.
The HSRC will use the funding, awarded over five years by the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, to establish a clearinghouse on the National Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program, a federal program established to create safe settings where more parents and children can walk and bicycle to school.
The clearinghouse will provide technical assistance to SRTS program coordinators and serve as the central hub of information on successful SRTS strategies and programs.
"The clearinghouse will help Safe Routes to School programs thrive based on knowledge, research and quality communication and promotion," said Lauren Marchetti, program manager for the clearinghouse.
The HSRC also will be responsible for developing educational programs on SRTS, as well as developing and maintaining a clearinghouse Web site, listserv and toll-free phone number.
The HSRC will develop the clearinghouse in collaboration with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, America Walks, the Governor's Highway Safety Association, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and Toole Design Group, as well as a network of experts nationwide.
"The implications of SRTS are far reaching," Marchetti said. "Communities are struggling with motor vehicles clogging roads around schools, motor-vehicle emissions polluting the environment and more children engaged in less physical activity."
Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past 30 years, while the number of children walking and biking to school has declined, Marchetti said.
According to the 2001 National Household Travel Survey, less than 16 percent of students between the ages of 5 and 15 walked or biked to or from school, compared to 42 percent in 1969.
Through the 2005 passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), Congress designated a total of $612 million toward developing the National Safe Routes to School Program. Prior to the federal funding in the United States, several states and communities already had dedicated funding for Safe Routes to School programs.
With roots in Europe, Safe Routes to School is an international movement to help create safe environments for walking and bicycling to school.