Safe Routes to School (SRTS) National Partnership is a network of organizations dedicated to creating “safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools.”1 In doing so, they seek to reduce traffic congestion, improve the air quality around schools due to the reduction of traffic, and to increase children's activity and thereby reduce the risk of obesity and obesity-related health problems.2
The interest in the safety of children walking and biking to school began with research conducted in the U.S. in the early 1970s, which culminated in the 1975 U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) publication “School Trip Safety and Urban Play Areas.”3 The phrase “Safe Routes to School” was first used in Denmark in the late 1970s as they launched a successful initiative to increase safety for children walking and biking to school. From there the movement spread to the rest of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
The Safe Routes to School program in the United States began in 1997 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The following year Congress funded two pilot SRTS programs through the DOT, and in 1999 the state of California legislated a SRTS program by providing more than $20 million per year to create new bike lanes, pathways, and sidewalks for safe walking and biking to school.4
Meanwhile, Congressman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota began working with Bikes Belong Coalition and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to launch the two pilot programs mandated in 1998. Bikes Belong Coalition contacted Deb Hubsmith of Marin County Bicycle Coalition in northern California and Patrick Seidler of Wilderness Trail Bikes. With $50,000 each from the NHTSA, in August of 2000 the pilot Safe Routes to School programs began in Marin County, California with the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and in Arlington, Massachusetts with WalkBoston, Bikes Belong Coalition, and the National Parks Service.5
After two years, the Marin program reported a 21%-38% increase in children walking or biking to the schools. This success was communicated to the nation in 2002 through a radio media tour of the Safe Routes to School program sponsored by Bikes Belong Coalition and featuring Deb Hubsmith, the coordinator of the Marin program.
Also in 2002, Bikes Belong Coalition sponsored the formation of America Bikes, an alliance of eight nonprofit biking organizations. This new organization was created to make sure the Safe Routes to School program was included in the then forming federal transportation bill, the SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users). America Bikes was able to bring an awareness of the SRTS movement to each member of Congress.
During this time, Deb was working with the League of American Bicyclists and other pedestrian and bicycle groups to form the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, a network organized to speak for the development of and sustainability of SRTS programs nationwide. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership first met in June of 2003.6
Two years later the SAFETEA-LU was passed on July 29, 2005. This provided $612 million for a 2005-2009 federal Safe Routes to School program. Each state would receive at least $1 million per year to create a SRTS program with a full-time coordinator. The legislation mandated that 10-30% of the funds be used for educational and training programs and public awareness campaigns, while the balance be used for infrastructure projects to include “bicycle lanes, trails, sidewalks, traffic calming, safer street crossings, speed reduction programs, and bicycle racks around schools.”7
The SAFETEA-LU also created a Safe Routes to School Clearinghouse, established in 2006 as the National Center for Safe Routes to School at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. A task force was also established to guide the establishment of SRTS programs in all states.
As the SAFETEA-LU was being signed in as law in August of 2005, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership was founded. Funded by Bikes Belong Coalition and led by Deb, a staff, and a steering committee, the SRTS National Partnership gives support to state organizations, shares best practices, and secures funding for the continued sustainability of the SRTS programs. They are supported by Bikes Belong Coalition, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, SRAM Cycling Fund, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Kaiser Permanente, corporate sponsorships, partner affiliate donations, and individual donations.8
In 2007, Safe Routes to School National Partnership launched a three year State Network Project to set up SRTS programs in nine states and the District of Columbia. They also established a website as a resource for emerging programs. With Congress' $183 million a year extension of the SRTS program in 2010, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership moved to their second phase, which focused on 19 more states and the District of Columbia.9
As the national SRTS advocate, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership formed the 2011-2015 Strategic Plan for the National Partnership. This plan broadens their focus into five areas:
- Encourage research and communicate findings through media campaigns
- Create complete streets and safe access to schools through sidewalks, bike lanes, pathways, and street crossings
- Train effective leaders within schools and at all levels of government
- Outreach to low income communities to ensure they benefit from SRTS funding
- Network to establish funding and the organizational structure to sustain the SRTS movement into the future10
Through these five areas the Safe Routes to School National Partnership furthers their mission to “advocate for safe walking and bicycling to and from schools, and in daily life, to improve the health and well-being of America's children and to foster the creation of livable, sustainable communities.”11
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) partners with Safe Routes to School to advocate for better design of “multi-use transportation corridors that accommodate all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, people with disabilities, and people who use public transportation.”12 The ASLA supports the Safe Routes to School Reauthorization Act, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa on April 12, 2011, to reauthorize and streamline the SRTS program. From its start in 2005, the program has benefitted more than 4,000 elementary and middle schools across the country, but the demand for the program has greatly exceeded the available funds.13
At the Weight of the Nation Conference held in May of 2012 in Washington, D.C. the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership with the Game Changer Award for their efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian routes to schools and increase physical activity and safety for a healthier lifestyle for children.14
- 1. “Quick Facts.” Safe Routes to School National Partnership. < http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/mediacenter/quickfacts > 10 Oct. 2011.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. “History of SRTS.” National Center for Safe Routes to School. < http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/about-us/mission-and-history > 10 Oct. 2011.
- 4. “History.” Safe Routes to School National Partnership. < http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/about/history > 10 Oct. 2011.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. “FAQ.” Safe Routes to School National Partnership. < http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/about/faq > 10 Oct. 2011.
- 8. “Funding.” Safe Routes to School National Partnership. < http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/about/funding > 10 Oct. 2011.
- 9. Op.cit., “History.”
- 10. “Strategic Plan 2011-2015, Executive Summary.” Safe Routes to School National Partnership. < http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/media/file/Executive-Summary-FINAL.pdf > 16 Oct. 2011.
- 11. “About Us.” Safe Routes to School National Partnership. < http://www.saferoutespartnership.org/about > 10 Oct. 2011.
- 12. “Federal Advocacy.” American Society of Landscape Architects. < http://www.asla.org/transportation.aspx > 17 Oct. 2011.
- 13. “Issue Brief: S.800 Safe Routes To School Reauthorization Act.” American Society of Landscape Architects. < http://www.asla.org/FederalGovernmentAffairs.aspx?id=26572 > 17 Oct. 2011.
- 14. “CDC recognizes obesity prevention and control initiatives with Pioneering Innovation awards.” The Wall Street Journal. MarketWatch. PR Newswire. < http://www.marketwatch.com/story/cdc-recognizes-obesity-prevention-and-control-initiatives-with-pioneering-innovation-awards-2012-05-09 > 15 May 2012.