Midlands Region, South Carolina: Safety assessments improve overall safety for students

Introduction

Since 2011, the South Carolina Safe Routes to School Resource Center has organized and facilitated Walk Audits (also known as “Safety Assessments”) at elementary and middle schools across the state. Partner Schools reach out to School Outreach Coordinators and request a Walk Audit to gain insight on their arrival and dismissal processes and to assess safety concerns along walking and bicycling routes to and from the school. School Outreach Coordinators work with Partner Schools throughout the school year to plan Walk Audits.

Activities

Walk Audits bring a variety of stakeholders together to observe arrival and/or dismissal, and walk or bike the routes to and around campus. Stakeholders that have participated in the past include county council members, mayors, superintendents, law enforcement officers, South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), Parent Teacher Association (PTA) presidents, city planners, and various school district personnel.  The Resource Center contacts participants and coordinates the meeting and audits. The group identifies barriers to safe walking and bicycling, suggests infrastructure and safety improvements that may increase the safety of student walkers and bicyclists, and encourage more students to walk or bicycle to school. The Resource Center’s School Outreach Coordinator then writes up a report and sends it to SCDOT School Operations and SCDHEC Division of Injury Prevention team participants to review. The team reviews the report and prioritizes strategies, and SCDOT gives approval.

SCDHEC’s division of Injury Violence Prevention is a key partner at each Walk Audit. Neal Martin, Program Coordinator, and his colleagues observe vehicle occupant safety (seat belt usage and child passenger position) during arrival and dismissal times. Data is collected on seat belt usage of the drivers and their passengers, where the student is sitting in the car, and the usage of child passenger seats.

SCDOT’s School Operations Engineers review existing school signing and crosswalk locations on the roads adjacent the school, the interactions between vehicles and pedestrians at the school, and the movement of traffic that enter/exit the school’s driveways and circulates along the car and bus loops. When necessary, they also provide recommendations to improve on-site storage length for both parents and buses, and make recommendations to improve traffic operations internally and externally at schools.

Milestones

Schools in the Midlands region have used the report to ask their school district to make improvements immediately following the Walk Audits. Leaphart Elementary in Columbia had sidewalks repaired leading up their school after conducting a Walk Audit. Millwood Elementary in Sumter changed school policies the day after the Safety Walk Audit was completed. The faculty is now opening only the back doors of vehicles during dismissal from school.

Schools throughout the state have used the Walk Audit report to apply for grants. John P. Thomas Elementary, Burton Pack Elementary, and Crosswell Drive Elementary conducted their Walk Audits in 2014. All three schools then applied for and were awarded infrastructure grant funding from the SCDOT SRTS Program in 2014 and 2015. Doby’s Mill Elementary in Lugoff used their Walk Audit report to apply for additional funding to enhance their walking trail on campus. The walking trail is open to the community to use during non-school hours.

Over the past four years, nearly 100 schools across the state have seen improvements after hosting Walk Audits. Some of these improvements include reducing speed limits around the school, adding/updating appropriate signage, and installing bicycle racks.