Spartanburg, South Carolina: Countywide effort pays off in Spartanburg, SC

Introduction

The Safe Routes to School program in Spartanburg County, S.C. focuses on teaching safety, making the environment safer and increasing the number of families that are able to walk to school. Spartanburg County has strived to achieve these goals within Pine Street Elementary School, Lone Oak Elementary School and Inman Elementary School. In 2007, Pine Street Elementary School and Lone Oak Elementary School received $200,000 in Federal SRTS funding from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT). In 2008, Inman Elementary School also received $200,000. Over the past couple of years, community support has grown and is still growing as organizations and community members are beginning to understand the importance of alternative transportation at schools.

Activities

To help accomplish the program’s goal of increasing students’ understanding of safe pedestrian and bicyclist habits, Pine Street Elementary School is partnering with Safe Kids of Spartanburg and piloting Toole Design Group’s pedestrian safety curriculum. These classes are incorporated into health and physical education classes. A big aspect of this program is teaching through implementation. “Park and walks” to school and walking school buses have been designed to teach students about safety. In addition, all the funded schools are using students to model to other students the safety patrol’s rules and responsibilities.

Laura Ringo, a Safe Routes to School coordinator at Partners for Active Living, a division of SCDOT, Spartanburg area, says that another objective of the program is to “encourage regular walking and bicycling to school, making it so safe, convenient, and cool that it becomes a realistic choice for transportation.” This ensures parents that their child is participating in a school-endorsed program, but at the same time students feel they are doing something “cool.” To communicate with families and encourage students to walk or bike to school, parent- teacher organizations distribute fliers during school dismissal and send out newsletters. “Teachers, parents and community volunteers are really running the programs once the funding is available,” said Ringo. “It is very exciting to see so many folks get involved in this important issue.”

Specific programs targeting students are also another factor in the increase of students walking or bicycling to school in Spartanburg. Programs such as Walking and Wheeling Wednesdays and Walk and Bicycle to School Day are used and celebrated all throughout the nation and Spartanburg is no exception. The SRTS program at Pine Street Elementary School uses an incentive program to encourage students to participate in these special days.

Spartanburg’s program also aims at improving the infrastructure surrounding the school. Of the SCDOT funding, $180,000 went to infrastructure. The goal of SRTS is to make the environment safe, and after it has been made safe, to encourage more walking and bicycling. Improvements in infrastructure, including connectivity, signage and crosswalk markings, are being made at the funded schools in Spartanburg. An important part of this is making parents and students aware of the changes in infrastructure, specifically for safety reasons. At Pine Street Elementary School, a five-point intersection with only three stop signs was modified to include five stop signs. This information was announced in a meeting, posted on Pine Street Elementary School’s Web site and included in the newsletter. More crossing guards are also being used at the schools. In addition, progressive ticketing is being implemented as well as the development of more bicycle racks.

Milestones

Spartanburg’s SRTS program has had a successful seven years due to the overwhelming support of several partnerships with advocate groups, public health agents and neighborhood associations. Organizations like Partners for Active Living and Safe Kids of Spartanburg always offer a helping hand. More Spartanburg community officials understand the need to increase the number of students who walk or bicycle to school. They want to promote and support a healthy, active lifestyle for their community. In 2006, 70 percent of Spartanburg’s adult population was overweight. The county recently created the Childhood Obesity Taskforce and SRTS is considered an important solution to the childhood obesity problem.

In 2001, Spartanburg held its first Walk to School event at one school. In comparison, 2008 saw Spartanburg’s most successful Walk to School event with more than 44 schools across the county participating. This was the most successful SRTS event held in South Carolina.

Spartanburg County has also started Bicycle to School Day which is increasing in participation every year. Over the past couple of years, there has been an increase in the number of bicycle lanes and bicycle racks.

Before the SRTS program in Spartanburg, few parents had even thought of letting their child walk to school. While many parents do not let their child walk to school alone, many of them enjoy walking to school with their child. This is a growing trend in Spartanburg. “In fact, while at a social event, I had an acquaintance tell me all about how she and her son walk to school regularly,” said Ringo.

Contact

Laura Ringo
Safe Routes to School Coordinator
Partners for Active Living
South Carolina Department of Transportation Spartanburg Area
P.O. Box 6728 Spartanburg, S.C. 29304
LRingo@active-living.org
(864) 598-9638