In May 2003, Michigan’s Department of Transportation (DOT), in partnership with other organizations, convened a mini-conference with the theme of Designing Healthy Communities to discuss the relationship between the built environment and the ability of community residents to embrace and engage in exercise. As a result of these discussions, the Safe Routes to School movement was identified as having the potential to improve this relationship.
Within the same year, the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) and the DOT applied for and received funding for a two-year pilot project, thereby marking the beginning of Michigan’s Safe Routes to School (MI-SR2S) initiative. This pilot project has become one of the hallmarks of the MI-SR2S program. The purpose of the project was to develop a SRTS handbook to help elementary schools begin and sustain MI-SR2S initiatives. In May 2006, the MFF and the DOT launched the handbook statewide and offered the book, training and technical assistance to schools that registered their programs with the MFF. The most telling evidence of the success of MI-SR2S and the handbook is the steadily increasing rate of school registrations.
As of August 1, 2007, there are 218 schools registered for SRTS programs. These registered schools form the pool of potential applicants for MI-SR2S funding. Their action plans, designed with guidance from the handbook, form the basis of their funding proposals. The application process is voluntary, requires significant effort to complete and engages the necessary partners at each school. Recognizing that each school requires different lengths of time to complete the application, MI-SR2S has an open call for applications with no deadline for submittal.
The application process typically lasts a school year. Of the eight applications received as of June 30, 2007, the average amount requested per school is roughly $150,000, with 95 percent of the requested funding directed to infrastructure. MI-SR2S formally markets and promotes their program and provides technical assistance through a variety of means, including presenting at conferences, sending out mailings and designating a volume of the Planning and Zoning News to the topic of safe routes to school. One of the most successful formal approaches to promoting the program is the MI-SR2S website. It serves as the single official source of program information, including the SRTS handbook, which has been downloaded more than 450 times. The MFF and the DOT also provide regional day-long handbook trainings for school administrators and other people interested in the program.
As of October 2007, the MFF and the DOT have held 17 regional training sessions for more than 540 people. While the formal marketing approaches have proven successful, the organization’s best outreach occurs informally through the knowledge and commitment of their state and local partner agencies. MI-SR2S subcontracts with partner agencies to assist and train the schools in their regions. MI-SR2S also works with the Skillman Foundation to connect individual schools, neighborhood development and service organizations and other non-profit organizations with the program. MI-SR2S also is proud to partner with the Governor for the Cities of Promise initiative, a program focused on providing local capacity building to the state’s eight cities with the lowest per capita income. Currently, more than 70 schools from the eight Cities of Promise are registered and planning their own programs.
Overall, the MFF and the DOT’s strategy is to institutionalize MI-SR2S in as many relevant and interested agencies as possible, provide capacity in a variety of disciplines and form a variety of sources in every county in the state. All of this is done with the purpose of creating a self-sustaining program. Both the MFF and the DOT see this as the best way to achieve the long-term lifestyle changes for which the MI-SR2S program is intended.
Michael D. Eberlein
Michigan Department of Transportation
425 West Ottawa Street
PO Box 30050
Lansing, MI 48909