Projects to make routes safer for children who walk and bicycle to school are available through ITD's new Safe Routes to School program.
ITD announced this week that it will begin accepting requests from communities, school districts and other government agencies for funds that will be distributed on a reimbursement basis, explains Jo O’Connor, the Safe Routes to School (SR2S) coordinator.
“This program is unique in that it allows government, schools, non-profit organizations, parents and children to work together toward the common goal of creating a Safe Routes to School program,” she said.
Project funds are not traditional grants, she explains, but are reimbursements for community projects that have been completed. For information on successful SR2S programs and strategies, individuals can visit the National Center for Safe Routes to School Web site at: www.saferoutesinfo.org . Applications for funding reimbursements are available on the ITD Web site at www.itd.idaho.gov/SR2S.
SR2S programs share one common goal – to improve the health and safety of children and the community by making walking and bicycling to school safer, easier and more enjoyable. It is part of a federal program under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.
The program was created as part of the federal transportation bill – Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users Act, referred to as SAFETEA-LU.
Federal funds are dedicated to create SR2S projects that enhance children’s health and well-being, ease traffic congestion near schools, improve air quality and improve overall quality of life within the communities.
A FHWA study indicates that many of today’s parents walked or rode bicycles to elementary school when they were young. They explored their neighborhoods regularly on bike or on foot and enjoyed the independence and freedom that comes through safe travel.
In contrast, children today are driven to nearly all of their activities and only 10 percent walk to school every day, according to the study.
There are several reasons for this sharp decline, O’Connor explains. The journey between home and school has become longer and more treacherous because of decades of auto-oriented suburbanization. That has been compounded by the trend to build new schools farther away from residential areas.
In addition, parents fear exposing their children to threats from strangers and motor vehicles. And finally, in many communities, sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes and trails are either missing or inadequate.
A successful Safe Routes to School program benefits children and communities in several ways, the SR2S coordinator says.
“When routes are safe, walking or biking to and from school is an easy way to get the regular physical activity kids need for good health. Studies have shown that physically active kids have improved mood and concentration, a stronger self-image and more self-confidence.”
Physically active children have fewer chronic health problems and report lower levels of smoking and alcohol consumption.
Research also indicates that children consider walking or bicycling to school a fun activity, and they prefer it over traveling by vehicle.
“There’s so much to see, touch, think and talk about,” O’Connor says. “By walking with friends, children will build relationships and learn more about their neighborhood, their friends and themselves.”
Improvements in the safety of pedestrian and bicycle facilities also benefit communities, and SR2S initiatives help the environment by easing traffic congestion and reducing air pollution. Research suggests that 25 percent of morning traffic is composed of parents driving students to school.
Fewer car trips also mean lower gasoline bills.
Successful SR2S programs involve parents, children, community members, school staff, traffic engineers, city planners, law enforcement, community leaders and many others.
They also involve engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation, or the 5Es of traffic safety.
Projects assess the safety of school travel routes; make infrastructure changes such as crosswalks, sidewalks and crossing lights or adding crossing guards. They educate students and drivers about safe travel. Some programs expand to promote safe walking and bicycling throughout the community.