Research on the safety of children walking and bicycling to school began in the U.S. in the early 1970s and was highlighted by release of the US DOT publication “School Trip Safety and Urban Play Areas” in 1975. The term “Safe Routes to School” was first used in Denmark in the late 1970s as part of a very successful initiative to reduce the number of children killed while walking and bicycling to school. Safe Routes to School spread internationally, with programs springing up throughout Europe and in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
The first modern Safe Routes to School program in the U.S. began in 1997 in the Bronx, N.Y. In 1998, Congress funded two pilot SRTS programs through the US DOT. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued $50,000 each for Safe Routes to School pilot programs in Marin County, California and Arlington, Massachusetts. Within a year after the launch of the pilot programs, many other grassroots Safe Routes to School efforts were started throughout the United States.
Efforts to include a larger SRTS program in federal legislation began in earnest in 2002. In 2003, the League of American Bicyclists organized the first meeting of leaders in pedestrian and bicycle issues to talk about Safe Routes to School and how a national program might work. At the same time, a number of states were developing their own SRTS programs, continuing to build momentum for the movement.
In July 2005, Congress passed federal legislation that established a National Safe Routes to School program to improve safety on walking and bicycling routes to school and to encourage children and families to travel between home and school using these modes. The program, which was signed into law in August 2005, dedicated a total of $612 million towards SRTS from 2005 to 2009. The Federal Highway Administration administered the Safe Routes to School program funds and provided guidance and regulations about SRTS programs. Federal SRTS funds were distributed to states based on student enrollment, with no state receiving less than $1 million per year. SRTS funds could be used for both infrastructure projects and non-infrastructure activities. The legislation also required each state to have a Safe Routes to School Coordinator to serve as a central point of contact for the state.
Safe Routes to School programs operate in all 50 states and D.C. Children benefiting from SRTS funds live in urban, rural and suburban communities representing varying income levels and a range of walking and bicycling conditions. With legislative extensions, the Federal Safe Routes to School Program has apportioned nearly $1.15 billion to states as of September 30, 2012. These funds have benefited or will benefit close to 15,000 schools.
In July 2012, Congress passed a transportation bill: Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). Beginning in October 2012, SRTS activities were eligible to compete for funding alongside other programs, including the Transportation Enhancements program and Recreational Trails program, as part of a program called Transportation Alternatives (TAP). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is charged with putting the legislation into practice, and it provides information about MAP-21 on its website.
State SRTS programs are also in the process of determining how to handle the legislation. As the States provide information about how they will proceed with Safe Routes to School, the information will be available on our State SRTS pages.