The National Center's research program was established in 2008 with funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The National Center saw an opportunity to build on its growing national data system, which serves local programs, to help determine the impact of SRTS programs. Findings are intended to inform local SRTS programs and decision makers at the local, state and national levels. Three specific projects underway by the National Center aim to assist and inform stakeholders at all levels and are informed by the national data system.
Having a basic understanding of how students are getting to and from school and parents' perceptions that may influence walking and bicycling rates are critical pieces of information for communities to have as they plan their programs and track their progress. Collecting this same information using the same questions and forms gives the opportunity for insights at a national-level. For these reasons, the National Center for Safe Routes to School developed two standardized forms: the Student Travel Tally and the Parent Survey. Data collection can present a great burden to local programs so the National Center offers two ways for local SRTS programs to aggregate and summarize data collection forms. Programs may either enter data into an online system or send their forms to the National Center for entry. Regardless of method, local programs receive an online report with summary statistics of their data. Data gathered from SRTS programs are maintained in a database that also captures detailed information about each program, funding information, specific SRTS strategies (non-infrastructure programs and infrastructure projects) planned and program implementation details.
Understanding safety outcomes is an important element of evaluating the SRTS program. The National Center is working to determine the feasibility and develop a process to monitor, document and measure potential safety outcomes from SRTS programs. Major activities during the reporting period included development of research approach and methodology; development of methodology for selecting geographic sites to examine; identification of the primary source for the crash data needed for this task and narrowing down the possible study sites.
To get a better understanding of which strategies appear to have the greatest promise for improving safety or increasing the numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists, an expert panel will select specific strategies for evaluation. Using the database, programs implementing strategies of interest will be identified for further study. Similarly, the panel may decide to identify effective strategies for reaching specific populations such as those served by tribal schools or low income communities. The team conducted a literature review of children's transport to school, including available SRTS evaluations. The team also assessed data levels in the database to ascertain whether there was sufficient information to start searching it and secured a backup plan by identifying optional study sites to consider through Walk to School Organizer survey.
Engineers and other local transportation professionals have requested a tool to assist with the identification and prioritization of infrastructure improvement needs along school routes. The team compiled a matrix of known safety audits and then conducted key informant interviews with target audience and summarized the findings which eventually became a tip sheet available on the National Center's Web site titled Assessing Walking and Bicycling Routes: A Selection of Tools. The team also convened an expert meeting to identify appropriate methods for development and drafted and obtained practitioner review comments for a second resource regarding prioritizing infrastructure improvements.
Each year the National Center conducts a self evaluation using several mechanisms for obtaining feedback and recommendations. This past year the National Center used five sources of information: State SRTS Coordinator Survey of National Center for Safe Routes to School Year 3 Performance, State SRTS Coordinator Annual Meeting Feedback, Web Usage Statistics, SRTS National Course Instructor Survey, and other support provided to community-level programs.