Massachusetts’ commitment to safe school routes and more physically active student travel predates the federal Safe Routes to School legislation. In 2001, MassHighway funded early Safe Routes pilot projects conducted by WalkBoston. In 2005, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation and Public Works chose to initiate the Massachusetts Safe Routes to School (M-SRTS) program through MassRIDES, a statewide travel options service, thereby connecting the program to the organization’s successful efforts in encouraging commuters to use alternatives to solo driving.
One of the major accomplishments of M-SRTS is their streamlined and cost effective process for funding local schools. Rather than initiate a grant application process, M-SRTS decided to deliver technical assistance directly to schools in need. This approach immediately provided schools with individualized attention through customized planning, implementation and evaluation services at no cost to the schools. Partner schools also received educational materials, recognition and reward items, pedestrian and bicycle safety training and infrastructure improvements. To ensure that schools receiving infrastructure improvements conduct comprehensive programs, only partner schools with programs covering the four E’s of education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation are allowed to receive funding for the fifth E, engineering improvements. Each year, M-SRTS provides approximately $400,000 for education, encouragement and enforcement activities (evaluation assistance is provided at no cost), and another $1.3 million will be delegated to fund operational and physical improvements to community infrastructure within the next year. The final piece of their approach to funding is the provision of a consultant team of school engineers, planners and bicycle and pedestrian experts, who work with the schools to prioritize infrastructure programs and oversee the projects from concept to construction. This consolidated approach of providing customized support, funding comprehensive programs and utilizing an experienced consultant team stretches capital funding, thereby creating sustainable programs and allotting financial resources to achieving results rather than covering administration costs.
Another accomplishment of M-SRTS is the diversity of the participating schools. M-SRTS’s recruitment efforts are targeted to specific elementary and middle schools in order to ensure socio-economically and geographically diverse participants. The organization actively pursues urban, suburban and rural schools with diverse student enrollment who might not seek M-SRTS assistance on their own.
M-SRTS promotes their program both broadly to the community at large and directly to the school districts. Broad outreach is achieved through listserv mailings, the MassRIDES website and conference attendance and
presentations, which highlight the achievements of M-SRTS and inform stakeholders of available tools and resources. In fall 2007, M-SRTS will be holding its first Safe Routes Forum to share successes, best practices and lessons learned with key stakeholders and community members. M-SRTS also provides direct assistance and support to their partners. School outreach coordinators deliver customized pedestrian and bicycle safety education to summer day camps, and the organization partners with WalkBoston to provide pedestrian safety trainings to partner schools.
In less than two years, M-SRTS has seen a remarkable increase in the number of partnering schools, from just two schools in December 2005 to 62 in June 2007. These partnerships allow M-SRTS to reach more than 27,000 students in 35 communities.
M-SRTS’s partnerships are not just limited to schools. Many other organizations contribute to the success and development of the program. Early support from such governmental agencies as the department of education provided access to the contacts and communication networks necessary for jumpstarting the program. The M-SRTS Task Force, with membership encompassing different levels of influence from federal agencies to community leaders, offers unique perspectives and insights regarding how M-SRTS can form mutually beneficial relationships with outside agencies. M-SRTS is unique in its approach to developing partnerships in that it created a partner model to encourage deeper commitment and development of broader activities among SRTS schools. In this model, schools progress through bronze, silver and gold level partnerships as they increase the frequency of SRTS activities and broaden their involvement beyond the school itself and into the community.