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Current Issue: September 2014
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The Safe Routes to School goal is: where its safe, get children walking and biking and where it is not, make changes.

SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL -- FUNDING CYCLES AND BICYCLES KEEP KIDS TWO-WHEELIN’ AND TWO-FOOTIN’
by  Maria Raptis
Issue Date: 08/2007

This Caltrans program is about old-fashioned walking and biking to school, but with new and improved methods.

On June 7 Caltrans awarded $45 million in statewide funding to California cities and counties to fund 98 projects for “Safe Routes to School,” (SRTS), a program that will provide infrastructure and education to give kindergarten through eighth grade (K-8) students easier and healthier ways to safely travel to and from school.  The program is also designed to promote walking or biking to students as a more appealing mode of transportation.

“Safety is Caltrans’ number one priority, and nothing is more important than ensuring the health and safe passage of our children,” said Caltrans Director Will Kempton.

In District 7, $5.9 million from that federal grant money was allocated to thirteen local agencies for projects and programs in Alhambra, Bell Gardens, Burbank, Maywood, Rancho Palos Verdes, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, South Gate, Inglewood, West Los Angeles, San Fernando, Montebello and Thousand Oaks.  Another $3.9 million was awarded to the University of California at San Francisco to build and support local projects towards this effort for all statewide grade and middle schools.

“Through this program, Caltrans expects to increase public safety and decrease traffic congestion around schools and connecting roadways, which will improve air quality,” says Doug Failing, Caltrans District 7 Director.  “Another beneficial outcome will be strengthened partnerships among Caltrans, local agencies and the public.”

The SRTS program provides funding for two types of projects: infrastructure projects for engineering improvements and non-infrastructure projects that will focus on educational events and activities to promote and encourage students to walk or bike to school. Infrastructure improvements must be made within a two-mile radius of a K-8 school.  Typical improvements include new and upgraded sidewalks, curb ramps, crosswalk improvements, pedestrian warning signs and count-down signals, flashing LED signals, bike lanes and paths, and radar speed-feedback signs. 

“This is the first year that the non-infrastructure funding category has been added.  Local agencies can now address the program’s mandatory 5 E’s: Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Engineering and Evaluation,” according to Kirk Cessna, Chief, Office of Local Assistance, whose office is responsible for coordinating SRTS in District 7. 

“Education programs include bicycle rodeos, traffic enforcement, pedestrian and bicycle counts, traffic collision analysis and planning,” says Cessna.

Educational and promotional efforts help develop tools and methods to encourage ways to achieve a healthy lifestyle and conducting workshops to promote walking and biking as an alternative transportation choice.  Parents and guardians, school personnel, crossing guards and Neighborhood Watch programs are also involved to learn safety awareness and avoid dangerous driving behaviors.

In total, the Department expects to receive $68 million in Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funding for “Safe Routes to School” over the program’s five-year life span, which received approval from Congress in 2005 under Section 1404 of SAFETEA-LU, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users.  Seventy percent of funds will go toward infrastructure improvements; 30 percent will be allocated to education and encouragement.

According to Cessna, during each funding cycle, District 7 typically receives about 80 to 100 applications competing statewide for about  $24 million.  District 7 usually receives about one-third of these funds and the demand continues to grow.

In California, the SRTS program is managed by Caltrans’ Local Assistance Office, which oversees more than $1 billion dollars annually available to over 600 cities, counties and regional agencies for the purpose of improving transportation infrastructure or providing transportation services. The funding comes from various federal and state programs to assist the transportation needs of local agencies.

“Caltrans is pleased that ‘Safe Routes to School’ is one of our most popular and competitive local transportation infrastructure grant programs,” says Cessna.  “There is a lot of work to do in communities to make the routes to and from school more user-friendly and safe which will hopefully encourage more parents to allow their children to walk and bike to school.”

 

In 1969, 42% of children ages 5-18 walked or biked to school. In 2001, those figures decreased to 16%. (Source: FHWA)
Studies show that less than 15% of all trips to school are by walking or bicycling; 25% of trips are by school buses and 50% of all children arrive at school in private automobiles.  
(Source: Federal Highway Administration)

The decline in walking and biking has had an adverse effect on traffic congestion and air quality around schools, as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety.