Getting There Together: A Message from the Director on Looking Both Ways

“Look both ways.” Such a common phrase in the Safe Routes world, our instruction when teaching children how to cross the street safely. In that context, of course, both ways means left and right (and left again).

Looking both ways can also be looking back and looking ahead.

As you all know, passage of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) transportation legislation in July 2012 has brought change to the Safe Routes to School program, and to us at the National Center. At the end of September, our current contract with the Federal Highway Administration will expire, bringing an end to the first seven years of the National Center and we are waiting to hear if our proposal will be selected for us to continue to serve the program.

So it seems appropriate to look back at what we—the Safe Routes to School community and the National Center —have accomplished in that time. Of course, the ultimate accomplishment, the dream of anyone who cares about walking and bicycling, is to increase walking and bicycling while decreasing injuries. Because of your hard work and data collection, the SRTS community has numbers to show that both are being accomplished.

At the recent SRTS National Conference, representatives from Miami-Dade County, Fla., and New York City showed impressive reductions in pedestrians and bicyclists being hit by cars through education and through infrastructure.  And through a preliminary analysis of the data that schools have entered into the national SRTS data collection system, the National Center has been able to identify a significant increase in walking to school from 2007-08 to now, with more than 30 percent increases in both the morning and afternoon. (A report on these numbers will be out in October.) These are major accomplishments.

Over the past seven years, our job at the National Center has been to support the State SRTS coordinators and the schools and communities that work to make it safer and easier for children to walk and bicycle to school and to gradually change the way our country views walking and bicycling as a form of transportation.

Some of the things that I am most pleased that the National Center has done are:

  • Start Bike to School Day. It was long overdue and, judging by the numbers of schools that have participated—950 the first year, 1,700 this year, an 81% increase—a welcomed opportunity to highlight bicycling.
  • Establish the data system. Without that data—more than a million parent surveys and student travel tallies—we could not have documented the increases in walking.
  • Develop an interactive project map that shows where the more than 14,000 federally funded projects are located by state, county, congressional district and metropolitan planning organization.
  • Recognize exceptional programs and ideas—through the annual Oberstar SRTS Awards, through mini-grant awards, and through nearly 200 case studies of unique SRTS programs.
  • Train local instructors, a force of 255 SRTS instructors across the country.

That’s looking back.  Looking ahead, we know that come October there will still be a SRTS National Clearinghouse, and that it will have an important opportunity to help the Federal SRTS program to continue to flourish and become an important component of the larger Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP).

As part of the larger TAP, it will be vital for the SRTS National Clearinghouse to build off of existing systems, to create partnerships with the other clearinghouses and to seek efficiencies where they exist. And it will be important to continue to support states, MPOs and communities in implementing successful and sustainable programs that make a profound difference in children’s lives.

The clearinghouse should also continue working to create a shift in the transportation mindset regarding the trip to school and beyond, promoting the principles of Safe Routes to School as part of the larger vision for walking and bicycling in the USA.

* * * * *

This issue of Safe Routes Matters, the last issue for the current iteration of the National Center, has good news to share: the inspiring story of a Safe Routes program in Springfield, Mass., that made an appearance in an episode of 60 Minutes; a wrap-up of the biggest ever SRTS National Conference; and some ideas for how to make this year’s Walk to School Day the best ever.

So looking both ways, I encourage you to celebrate your accomplishments, they are impressive, and plan more grand things! You have and will continue to make a big difference in children’s lives.

Lauren Marchetti
National Center for Safe Routes to School