Each year in March, the National Center holds a meeting of our national review group to help steer our activities. This year we thought it was a good time to go broader and invite a larger group to participate in a Safe Routes to School Roundtable on Transportation and Health.
Why that? Why now? As SRTS changes from how it existed under the 2005 SAFETEA-LU transportation legislation to the 2012 MAP-21 legislation, it is an excellent time to capture the successes of the program and understand how to apply them as SRTS and Transportation Alternatives move forward. The federal Safe Routes to School program, while small compared to other transportation programs, has had resources to use innovative approaches to advance shared health and transportation goals and to have data inform decision-making at the local, state and national levels.
More than 30 experts in the fields of transportation, health, planning, education, safety and youth engagement, participated in an active examination of how the successes of SRTS can be of benefit to other transportation programs.
SRTS successes include more than 13,000 local Safe Routes programs across the country, a national data collection system that has recorded more than one million parent surveys and student travel tallies, the tremendous growth of Walk to School Day and the advent of Bike to School Day, to name a few.
I want to share a sampling of the voices we heard at the roundtable.
Jennifer Hefferan, the State SRTS Coordinator for Washington, D.C., reported on the current status of State SRTS programs across the country. About two-thirds of the states are continuing with Safe Routes under MAP-21 in a similar fashion to the way they ran the program under SAFETEA-LU. The future of the program is being discussed in most of the remaining one-third of states.
Arthur Wendel of the Healthy Community Design Initiative at the CDC argued that SRTS has given real hope about the possibilities for increasing physical activity among children and improving overall community quality of life. He proposed that SRTS has helped create a legion of local-level experts who know how to conduct needs assessments, build coalitions and get things done.
Charlie Zegeer of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center shared results from two studies that showed encouraging results about how infrastructure and education strategies contributed to preventing deaths and injuries for school children in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and New York City.
Judy Shanley of Easter Seals Project ACTION described her promotion of Safe Routes as an essential service for students with disabilities to learn to live a motorized-free life.
Dennis Leach of the Arlington County, Virginia, Department of Environmental Services described how SRTS is at the center of the county’s transportation goals and school site planning. Arlington County is a leading voice in a national conversation about changing the way school siting decisions are made to reflect the direct costs of transportation and the indirect costs of health risks associated with school traffic.
Coming away from the roundtable, we plan to develop recommendations for how to use what has been learned and accomplished through SRTS to continue to provide safe, active transportation choices for children and communities in general.
We look forward to sharing those recommendations in the near future.
National Center for Safe Routes to School