Local Success Stories

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2011 Success Stories

State Safe Routes to School Program

The federal funds for Safe Routes to School flow from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to the state DOTs. How the state DOTs administer the federal funding has a profound impact on the quality of local infrastructure and programs and whether the funding reaches underserved communities. This is critical because of the potential for the Safe Routes to School funding to increase physical activity among children, especially those most affected by or at the greatest risk for childhood obesity. Networks worked with state DOTs to make sure that the safety and convenience of bicyclists and pedestrians was prioritized within their funding and policy decisions. Networks provided guidance on application guidelines, outreach and implementation processes and raised awareness of the program among potential applicants, especially in lower-income communities.

Lahaina, Maui - Hawaii: In June 2011, HDOT announced an award of $608,000 in federal funds for four Maui Safe Routes to School projects. The work will include sidewalks, crosswalks and street signs in areas near Kamalii Elementary in Kihei and Princess Nahienaena Elementary School in Lahaina.

Prince George's County & Baltimore, Maryland: An award of $897,800—the largest grant in the Maryland program’s history—to Prince George’s county in suburban Washington, D.C., marked the culmination of collaborative efforts by the Maryland network and the Maryland Highway Safety Office to build contacts and encourage the jurisdiction to apply for Safe Routes to School funding. The county will build 17,220 feet of sidewalks – as well as crosswalks, wheelchair ramps and signage – for elementary schools where the majority of students come from lower-income families.

Baltimore City, MD received $473,400 in Safe Routes to School funding for crosswalks and pedestrian countdown signals and to implement a large-scale walking school bus program set to be rolled out in fall 2011 at multiple schools.

Cottonwood, Minnesota: Lakeview School is a public pre-k through 12th grade school in Cottonwood, Minn. Cottonwood Lake separates the school and the town, and the students who wanted to walk or bike to school were only able to use a busy country road around the lake, which made the trip difficult and unsafe. As a result, only about 25 students walked or biked to and from school each day. In 2008, the town of Cottonwood received $87,575 in Safe Routes to School funds from the Minnesota DOT; $3,000 was be used for educational and promotional activities, and the remainder was to be used to construct a path around the lake, which was completed in 2009. Before the construction of the path, only about five percent of Lakeview students walked or biked to school. Today 11 percent of students use the path at least once per week and an additional 13 percent use the path at least once per month to walk or bike to school and for other recreational purposes. Students are not the only ones to take advantage of the path. In the evenings, large numbers of individuals and families use the path for jogging, walking, or bicycling.

Venango County, Pennsylvania: Utica Elementary School in Venango County, PA, was awarded $385,300 in 2009 to build sidewalks and curb ramps leading to this small, community-based school. The project, which was completed on time and under budget, represents the first federally-funded Safe Routes to School infrastructure project built in Pennsylvania.

Complete Streets­­­­­­­­­­­­

Complete streets policies encourage or require local and/or state jurisdictions to consider and address the needs of bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of all roadway and transit facilities. These policies ensure that bicycle and pedestrian safety is considered from the inception of a transportation project, rather than something to be added later through more expensive retrofitting projects. The end result is more street-scale facilities for safe and healthy physical activity in neighborhoods and on routes to school. Networks work to get complete streets policies into state and regional transportation agency policies and procedures, and to ensure implementation.

East Central Florida: The East Central Florida Regional Planning Council, in 2011, is the first planning council in Florida to include objectives in their Strategic Regional Policy Plan that focus on Safe Routes to School and complete streets, while encouraging local municipalities to include Safe Routes to School and complete streets strategies into their Comprehensive Plans. This landmark plan will ensure that bicyclists and pedestrians will be considered when local transportation projects are planned and constructed.

Blue Island, Illinois: Blue Island, Ill. has a nearly completed sidewalk network connecting people to transit, and the city has had a long history of providing accommodations for bicyclists in their municipal code. Blue Island also has worked to encourage more students to walk and bike to and from school and has received Safe Routes to School grants to create better connections. In July 2010, the city council voted to make Blue Island the first community in Illinois to enact a complete streets policy as an ordinance, as opposed to an executive order, resolution or part of a plan, making complete streets a legal requirement. The ordinance will help Blue Island support work they are already doing, like Safe Routes to School. It also will help them work with state and county transportation departments to encourage connectivity and create a network of truly complete streets. 

Louisiana: The Louisiana network developed a complete streets advisory committee for the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Region through the Regional Planning Commission. The committee is working on drafting a complete streets policy for adoption by the Metropolitan Planning Office in late 2011. In August 2011 the New Orleans City Council passed Resolution R-11-338 directing the Council’s Transportation Committee to draft a complete streets ordinance, thereby institutionalizing complete streets in New Orleans at local, regional and state levels. District "C" Councilmember Gisleson Palmer said, "As Chair of the Transportation Committee, I am committed to the development of a Comprehensive Streets Policy that fully integrates all aspects of transportation and infrastructure development. This policy initiative will ensure that the City's transportation system is efficient, innovative and works today, tomorrow and in the future."

Lansing, Michigan: Lansing, Mich. adopted the first complete streets ordinance in that state, and in the summer of 2012, a $2.28 million "Complete Streets Transformation" began. Washington Ave., a five-lane roadway that runs through Lansing's historic REO Town commercial corridor, will be converted into a three-lane roadway, with dedicated bike lanes, wider sidewalks, landscaped medians, pedestrian bump-outs and mid-block crossings (traffic calming measures), other pedestrian-based enhancements and the installation of extensive green infrastructure for storm water management. The project is a showcase item for the city, which is hoping that a complete streets-oriented reconstruction will help spur investment in this economically distressed corridor.

Oxford, Mississippi: Upon passage of a complete streets ordinance in 2010, the city of Oxford, Miss. proceeded to make more pedestrian improvements, and did so by constructing a median and three raised crosswalks. The median was built to calm traffic around the city’s middle school and the crosswalks were constructed to allow children to safely cross the street from the middle school to the Boys and Girls Club.

Thompson's Station, Tennessee: Thompson's Station, Tenn., a rural community of about 1,500 citizens, received a Safe Routes to School grant from the Tennessee state program for installation of a sidewalk between Heritage Elementary School and adjoining Heritage Middle School. The neighboring town of Spring Hill, which has a population of about 30,000 and is a fast-growing city in Tennessee, wanted to connect to Thompson's Station through a raised pathway since many Spring Hill children attend the schools in Thompson's Station, but dangerous road conditions prohibited children from walking or bicycling to school. Spring Hill applied for a $69,000 state Transportation Enhancement grant to build a connection from Thompson's Station's new sidewalk to a neighborhood in Spring Hill. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam visited Spring Hill to award them with the grant and recognized their efforts to connect their schools and communities. In addition, a local nonprofit organization, Outdoor Encounter, raised money through grants and private donations to build a pathway that connects two nearby parks to the schools. The pathway was completed and the grand opening celebration was held on August 15, 2011. 

School Siting and Shared Use of Facilities

In 1969, 41 percent of children lived within one mile of a school; in 2009 only 31 percent lived that close. Statewide policies on where schools are located, minimum campus acreage requirements, shared use of facilities and funding formulas on renovation versus new construction, can profoundly impact the percentage of students who live within walking or bicycling distance of their school, or have access to school facilities after school hours. Networks educate decision-makers and state agencies about the benefits of community-centered schools, facilitate cross-agency collaboration and work to change policies to protect and encourage community-centered schools and to promote shared-use policies.

Johns Creek, GeorgiaOn August 3, 2011, the city of Johns Creek, Georgia, and the Fulton County Board of Education approved a shared-use agreement for River Trail Middle School and Shakerag Park. River Trail Middle School will use the athletic fields, track and park facilities located in Shakerag Park during school hours, and Fulton County will use the softball fields, tennis courts, outdoor basketball court, sidewalks, driveways and parking areas located on the middle school property after school hours. The agreement lasts until July 5, 2050. Both parties agreed to maintain and clean up after use, with no fees charged, and both parties will maintain and repair their own facilities.

Lexington, Kentucky: William Wells Brown Elementary, which was built for shared use of its facilities, is located in a lower-income area of Lexington, where 96 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The county parks and recreation department and public school district signed a shared-use agreement, which protects the school from liability and allows community activities in the school facility, including classes about financial literacy, adult wellness and healthy cooking.

Calvert County, Maryland: One model school site lies in Prince Frederick, the county seat of Calvert County in southern Maryland, where a new middle school opened in fall 2010. The school is located on property adjacent to a high school that's being renovated in stages. Both schools form the heart of a planned "town center," within an easy walk to shops, a new county aquatic center, a library and planned residential neighborhoods. Calvert Middle School earned Governor Martin O'Malley's designation as a "Smart Site" in 2009. And county planners, the school district’s director of construction and state planners — all active Maryland network partners — regularly hold up this school siting story as a model.

Billings, Montana: In Billings, Mont., the Montana network conducted research on the number of children living near schools being considered for closure. The data showed that the town core had 353 students per mile, but the proposed site for a new school only had 27.5 per mile. This data prompted the school board to change its school siting policy. The board’s new policy requires partnering with the local health department on completing health impact assessments of all their elementary school sites; beginning to hold meetings of city, school district, transit and housing officials to plan collaboratively and find ways to meet their sustainability goals; conducting listening sessions; and reconsidering all of the previously developed school facilities plans.

Supporting Lower-Income Communities

Safe Routes to School provides funds for state DOTs to make grants to schools and communities to increase walking and bicycling and improve safety. However, not every community has the leadership resources or expertise needed to take advantage of this opportunity. The Safe Routes Partnership has been working with state agencies to develop and implement methods to help lower-income schools and communities secure infrastructure and program grants through providing technical assistance, trainings, engineering services, planning grants and by allowing local paid Safe Routes to School coordinators to be eligible for funding from the state. Networks educate state DOTs on the need for lower-income communities to receive financial and technical assistance, analyze what steps, if any, the state has taken to help lower-income communities and work with agencies to ensure that lower-income communities are able to successfully and equitably secure grant awards to improve built environments and community access to schools.

California: The city of Chula Vista, Calif., a city near San Diego with a 58 percent Hispanic/Latino population, won a $600,000 federal Safe Routes to School infrastructure grant for improvements in the neighborhoods surrounding Otay and Rice elementary schools, including pedestrian medians, curb extensions, curb ramps, flashing beacons, a mid-block crosswalk with zebra striping and school zone signage. The Chula Vista Elementary School District was awarded a $499,025 Safe Routes to Schools non-infrastructure grant to promote walking or biking to school at 17 elementary schools. By the end of the two-year grant period, the district anticipates a ten percent increase in walking and bicycling to school at both schools and for decreases in car traffic volumes and childhood obesity rates.

Ward 4, District of Columbia: Whittier Education Campus is a school located in Ward 4, a lower-income neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Thanks to funds from the city’s pilot Safe Routes to School program, new sidewalk sections were put in place on streets that provide direct access to the school and for the high school across the street. These new sections provided needed connectivity and eliminated a number of trip hazards. The program also includes other elements; for example, third grade students received hands-on pedestrian and bicycle safety education in their physical education classes, and encouragement events were conducted to build participation in walking and bicycling to school.

New Orleans, Louisiana: The network formed a diverse stakeholder team to assist a community organization in a violent and impoverished neighborhood of New Orleans in applying for Safe Routes to School funds for Harney School, where 96 percent of the student population is eligible for free or reduced lunch. The application was successful and in March 2010 Harney School was awarded $285,000 for engineering improvements for pedestrian and bicyclist safety in high-priority areas and to provide secure bicycle parking, along with safety signage and a traffic safety education program. The Louisiana network will continue to work with Harney School to advance the implementation of their project and use this work as a model for outreach to other lower-income community schools.

Northwoods, Missouri: In July 2011, the City of Northwoods, Mo., received $250,000 from the Safe Routes to School to improve sidewalks, crosswalks and accessibility for students with disabilities in the immediate area of a neighborhood school. When completed, these improvements should increase pedestrian safety and encourage more students to walk and bicycle to school. The school is in one of the poorest areas in the state, with more than 98 percent of students – all of whom are racial or ethnic minorities – eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

Lynchburg, Virginia: Prior to 2010, schools in Lynchburg, Virginia had not actively promoted Safe Routes to School. However, six Title I schools in Lynchburg applied for funding through the Prevention Connections mini-grant program in 2010 to help them develop an action plan. That experience prompted three of the schools to apply for state Safe Routes to School funds through the Virginia Department of Transportation in the 2011 application cycle to implement programs and make street scale improvements around the participating schools. Final decisions on this application cycle are expected in fall 2011.

Other Policy Successes

Long Beach, California - Highway Safety Improvement Program Funds: In March 2011, Caltrans awarded a $900,000 federal Highway Safety Improvement Program grant to Long Beach, Calif., to improve the street-scale environment for pedestrians on busy Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue. The city is reducing the number of automobile lanes from four to two and installing curb extensions, curb ramps and crosswalks while improving signal timing, which will make it much safer for pedestrians to cross and travel down the street.

Commerce City, Colorado – Legislation Implementation: Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Education: Central Elementary School in Commerce City, Colo., a school with 635 students (83 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch), launched a Safe Routes to School program through a partnership with transportation, health, police and school officials, led by Tri-County Health and Livewell Colorado’s Partnership for Healthy Communities (P4HC). New facilities were needed to guide children to cross safely at Holly Street because approximately 50 percent of the children went outside of the crosswalk. The team applied for and received Safe Routes to School funds : $100,689 was awarded for infrastructure improvements and $3,500 for a traffic safety education program, which was bolstered by two years of additional traffic safety education funding from P4HC. Students received a new bicycle helmet along with in-class and on-bike skills training through Bicycle Colorado. Among the improvements are a new pedestrian-activated signal and crosswalk across Holly Street north of 64th Avenue, new fencing to protect students from parking lot traffic as they enter school grounds, new signage pointing to the crosswalk and proper entry areas to the school grounds, and sidewalk improvements. After the infrastructure and education components were completed, walking to school increased by approximately 10 percent, and children now cross in the crosswalk.

Mount Prospect, Illinois – School Bus Funding: Mount Prospect, Ill., received at total of $76,000 in Safe Routes to School funding for the three sidewalk projects near Robert Frost Elementary School, John Jay Elementary School, and Holmes Junior High School. The work reduced the need for bussing in the neighborhood. The sidewalks have saved the school district approximately $50,000 per year, and approximately 50 additional students now walk to and from school.

2010 Success Stories

Reducing crime 

  • In Martinsburg, WV, federal Safe Routes to School funding of less than $150,000 provided students with a safe place to walk away from a site of regular drug and crime activity. Students using this pathway are now better protected from drug traffic, criminal activity and vandalism in the area, making it safer for them as they walk and bicycle to and from school. As an added bonus, more students are walking and bicycling to school now that the path has been installed.
  • Flagstaff, AZ cleaned up a local park where children were being exposed to drug deals, gang activity and public drunkenness on their walks and rides to and from school. The health department received more than $100,000 in SRTS funding for encouragement and education projects in the classroom. The department also formed a walking school bus and set up a local police substation to help students feel safer when walking and bicycling to school. Parents and students report that they are now more comfortable on the walk and ride to and from school.
  • Students at an Alameda County, CA school located near busy streets with gang violence felt unsafe walking and bicycling to school. A community partnership of local merchants that were located along these streets made signs letting students know that the establishment was a safe place, where they could duck into quickly if they felt like they were in trouble. This was an effective approach in removing a safety barrier that kept students from walking and bicycling to school.

Reducing carbon emissions and air pollutants

  • Ten walking school bus routes in Columbia, MO, organized by the PedNet Coalition, have significantly reduced carbon emissions and air pollutants as 350 registered students who used to be driven to school are now walking or bicycling. The result is a reduction of 40,000 miles driven to school each year, producing 19 fewer tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and 1 less ton of other air pollutants. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of participants also walk or bicycle home from school, further increasing the environmental impact.
  • Hillrise Elementary in Las Cruces, NM conducted a pilot to document the environmental impact of reducing car trips to school as more children walk and bicycle to school. A survey showed a 7.3 percentage point reduction in trips to school made by parents, equivalent to 38 fewer cars arriving at school each morning to drop children off. Assuming an average trip length of three-quarters of a mile one-way, that is a reduction of 5,130 miles driven on trips to school throughout the school year—which equates to a reduction of 2 tons of carbon dioxide and 283 pounds of other harmful pollutants. Starting off with just a few students walking and bicycling can still make a huge difference in a community. The city was so impressed with the initial pilot results that they are expanding Safe Routes to School efforts throughout the entire school district.
  • Three elementary schools in Longmont, CO average a total of 414 children walking or bicycling both to and from school each day—one-third of the student population. This saves parents close to 150,000 miles of driving, which equates to a savings of 68 tons of carbon dioxide and 4 tons of other pollutants. 

Improving traffic safety

  • Highland Park, MI prioritized a number of infrastructure improvements, including sidewalk repair, replacement and installation, demolition of abandoned buildings and cleanup of vacant lots. Federal funding was awarded in late 2008 in the amount of $900,000 to construct the infrastructure improvements and close to $54,000 for traffic safety education, volunteer recruitment and encouragement activities. Safety has improved with uniformed parent crossing guards help students safely cross streets, and adults are more visible on the street during arrival and dismissal times. Older students are regularly walking together with younger students, and the police have increased their presence around the schools and in the neighborhoods.
  • Burlington is a small rural Wyoming town with one-third of students living within one and a half miles of school. Even for students who live relatively close to school, the roads are unpaved gravel, there are just a few street lights scattered through town and the only sidewalks in town run for just five blocks along the high-speed state highway that bisects the town. With a little more than $365,000 in SRTS funding, sidewalks have been built and students no longer have to walk along the high-speed state highway or in the middle of gravel roads. A 2009 survey showed that about 44 percent of kids now walk to school and that 14 percent of children have switched from walking to bicycling now that sidewalks are available.
  • The Miami-Dade County school board in Florida mandates that all students in the school system receive pedestrian education through the WalkSafe program. As part of the program, the WalkSafe organization also collects incident reports from elementary schools to identify traffic and built environment dangers. Through teaching children pedestrian safety and making needed infrastructure improvements around schools, there has been a 43 percent decrease in the total number of children ages 0-14 hit by cars in Miami-Dade County since 2001.

Increasing physical activity

  • A Seattle, WA study evaluated the impact of a walking school bus on students walking to school in a low-income, urban neighborhood. At the participating school, three walking school buses were developed and maintained. Distances ranged from 0.3 to 1.5 miles long and took 15-40 minutes from start to finish. After 12 months of the intervention, the number of students who walked to the school increased from 20% to 25%.
  • $270,000 in SRTS funding helped fund encouragement and education programs at several elementary schools in Longmont and Boulder, CO areas. Before the program began at one of the elementary schools, only about a dozen children were bicycling to school regularly. By the end of the school year, the program averaged 60 participants per day, a five-fold increase.
  • The school wellness policy for Christina School District in Delaware states that all schools will work toward 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Safe Routes to School is a program they use to help meet this goal. The physical education teacher at one of the local elementary schools reports that all the infrastructure improvements and encouragement activities have really paid off, revealed in a noticeable decrease in the number of students being driven to school.

Building community and local government partnerships

  • Alameda County, CA passed a transportation sales tax measure that funds SRTS programs –both for engineering improvements that make it safer to walk and bicycle to and from school and for encouragement and education activities that promote walking and bicycling. This is a great example of a local county group leveraging additional money for SRTS. Alameda County has also been successful developing partnerships between schools and law enforcement, health departments, public works, neighborhood associations, community organizations and advocacy groups. These partnerships can help engage organizations and businesses in removing the barriers that keep students from safely walking and bicycling to school.
  • Sponsored by the Cascade Bicycle Club in Seattle, WA, the Major Taylor Project is a collaborative grassroots partnership of youth agencies, schools and bicycle educators. They have created a multicultural bicycling community where teenagers have the opportunity to spend time outdoors on a bicycle. With the support of a two-year grant of $20,000 provided by the Group Health Cooperative, a Seattle-based nonprofit health care system, the Cascade Bicycle Club opened Major Taylor clubs at a high school and several community organizations. In the year since the clubs began, 90 percent of active club participants have each completed more than 1,400 miles of riding.
  • Last year, Brockton, MA had more than 6,100 students from 5 elementary schools walk to school during twenty sessions in the fall and spring. The success of the SRTS program in Brockton is largely due to their involved group of community partners, from the school staff; the superintendent, to the principals, to the teachers to the crossing guards to the parents, to officials in the city of Brockton. They have the support of the Mayor, Brockton Police Department, Old Colony Planning Council, Chartwells Food Service, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, the Brockton Enterprise and Walk Boston just to name a few. The schools have also noticed less traffic congestion and parking issues as they implement SRTS with their community partners.
  • Decatur, GA kept their SRTS program going after a pilot project grant ran out by integrating the program within the City's active living division. They also incorporated SRTS engineering improvement requests into their capital projects lists. City staff have really taken ownership of the SRTS program. When they first started out 10 years ago, advocates had to explain the basics of Safe Routes to School. But now SRTS is becoming ingrained in city programs, and many infrastructure needs are being looked at from the Safe Routes to School perspective. Local level partnerships such as these really help create sustainable SRTS programs.

Reducing bus transportation costs

  • The city of Auburn, WA’s transportation department saves $240,000 each year in personnel and fuel costs by reducing hazard bus service. It uses some of its municipal funds to make improvements around schools, such as signage, traffic calming, sidewalks and paths, and writes grant applications for programs like Safe Routes to School to secure additional funding to make larger-scale upgrades and improvements. Overall, the improvements made now mean that 20 percent of students (2,800 children) live within safe walking areas and no longer need to be bused to school.
  • An Alexandria, VA neighborhood school was adjacent to an active construction site as the community continued to expand, and out of safety concerns, provided hazard busing to all students living within a one-mile radius of the school. In 2008, construction was winding down so parents asked school administrators to rescind the busing policy and allow walking and bicycling to that the school. The parents’ request was aided by the fact that tight school budgets would be aided by reductions in busing costs. As a result, the school principal and the assistant school superintendent rescinded the hazard busing policy so that children could start walking and bicycling to school--a win-win situation for students and the school budget.

Overcoming barriers of distance to school

  • Crete, Nebraska: In 2009, the rural community of Crete, NE implemented a “No Child Left Inside” project to encourage kids and parents to get outdoors and move more, since long distances to school can make it hard for children to walk or bicycle to school. Crete Elementary School hosted two walk and bicycle to school days where college athletes and high school students safely walked kids to school from two locations. Students who rode the bus and had a parent’s permission were dropped off at one of the two walking school bus sites so they could join the walk to school. More than 200 students participated in the fall and spring events.
  • Springerville, AZ: To overcome the challenge of distance to school in a rural area, Round Valley Primary School in Springerville, AZ identified a “park and walk” route from Springerville Park to the school, using developed park trails, sidewalks and crosswalks. This route is available to families and students at all times, not just for designated walk events. A First Wednesday Walk program was developed and continued through 2009 school year. In 2010, they have doubled the number of walk events, holding two per month, with the support of local businesses, community groups and high school organizations.
  • New York City: Many urban school districts struggle with distance to school issues because kids don’t go to school near their homes. Because of this, in New York City many students take public transportation, and walk or bicycle to the nearest transit stop. The New York City Department of Transportation has developed six “Safety City” facilities throughout the five city boroughs to deal with this barrier of distance to school as students maneuver through several modes of transportation on their trips to and from school. These facilities provide more than 50,000 children a year with hands-on experience and practical lessons in how to make safe choices when walking to and from school, taking public transportation, riding in a car or riding a bicycle.