As one of the first states to enact Safe Routes to School legislation and the home to one of two original pilot SRTS projects, California has been a leader in the national SRTS movement for nearly a decade. Since its inception in 1999, Caltrans, the department now in charge of awarding SRTS funding, has made a $189 million investment in improving community infrastructure and promoting safe walking and bicycling to and from school. Of this total investment, $45 million in funding was made available through the federal SRTS Program authorized by SAFETEA-LU. Of the $45 million, $3.8 million went to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the California Department of Public Health partnership to create a statewide technical resource center to support SRTS projects throughout the state; $7.6 million funded other non-infrastructure projects, such as hiring local SRTS managers in the communities; and the remaining $33.6 million supported infrastructure improvements.
Each year in California, the request for funding has been approximately five times greater than funds available. To help address this issue, Caltrans developed an innovative two-step review process to better target its limited resources toward funding the highest quality projects. This two-step process was followed in six cycles in the state legislated SRTS program, and in the first cycle of the federal SRTS program. In the first phase, Caltrans officials familiar with the local community assessed the feasibility of the infrastructure projects proposed by separate grant applications. Projects deemed “excellent” at the local level then progressed to the second phase, where they were reviewed at Caltrans headquarters by a panel that determined which projects will best achieve the federal program’s goals. Lastly, the projects were scored and ranked, with the top projects receiving funding.
An evaluation recently commissioned by Caltrans supported the successes of California’s SRTS programs. Released in March of 2007, the report concluded that the program is achieving its goals of improving safety and increasing bicycling and walking, warranting a further continuation and expansion of the program.
To assist in expanding the program, Caltrans markets SRTS to the community and affiliates through special web pages on Caltrans’ Web site, publicizing in the newsletters of partner agencies and non-profit organizations, presenting at conferences and workshops and utilizing media outlets. Caltrans also provides technical assistance to encourage community support and the development of applications. Recognizing that many organizations have little to no experience completing grants for federal funds, Caltrans developed a comprehensive training module to prepare potential applicants. This training has been offered to more than 400 individuals across eight regional Caltrans districts. The technical resource center established at UCSF also will serve as a location for technical assistance and support for funded SRTS projects and for all schools in California.
One of the hallmarks of Caltrans’ program is its commitment to involving those with expertise in SRTS efforts. In 2005, Caltrans created a new SRTS Advisory Committee comprised of 20 members who are involved in health, education, local government, advocacy and traffic-related fields. One of the most influential champions of the SRTS program is Assembly Member Nell Soto, who has authored three previous SRTS bills and is sponsoring another bill that is expecting approval this year.
California Department of Transportation
1120 N St. Sacramento, CA 95814