Tuesday, August 3, 2010, the Raleigh City Council voted 8-0 in favor of supporting the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Commission’s recommendation that the City apply to join the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.
According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in 1969, about half of all students walked or bicycled to school, compared to the fewer than 15 percent of all school trips made by walking or bicycling now. Currently, only one-quarter of trips are on a school bus and over half of all children arrive at school in private automobiles. With childhood obesity and related diseases on the rise, this is a great opportunity for our schools, children, and parents to consider something besides being dropped off in the soccer-mom-mobile!
As reported on their website, Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs enable community leaders, schools and parents across the United States to improve safety and encourage more children, including children with disabilities, to safely walk and bicycle to school. These programs work to reduce traffic congestion and improve health and the environment, making communities more livable for everyone. Additionally, the National Center for SRTS is right here in the Triangle, housed and maintained in part by the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, and the Federal Highway Administration.
In August 2005, the U.S. Congress provided funding to create a Federal SRTS Program, and designated $612 million in Federal transportation funds, distributed through each State’s Department of Transportation (DOT), a nationwide effort became a reality. The current Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, is even a participant in the SRTS program and on this past Grandparent’s Day, instead of just eating lunch with his granddaughter, he joined her on her walk to school. The Federal program is now helping thousands of programs grow in communities around the US today. Other communities in North Carolina have partnered with SRTS and you can read more about NC case studies online.
SRTS uses case studies, experience, and a network of hundreds of advocacy organizations, government agencies and professional groups working together to establish best practices and provide educational materials as well as sound and consistent policy. Proven tactics and trained facilitators enable the programming a means to successfully engage parents, students, teachers, school administrators, elected officials, transportation professionals, law enforcement, health organizations, and other community partners – “this is no fly by the seat of your pants” kinda programming. Public policy goals include:
- Decreasing traffic congestion
- Improving health and reducing childhood obesity
- Increasing physical activity
- Improving air quality
- Increasing community safety and access
Granted, the idea of biking or walking to school isn’t some new idea, but it’s not impossible either. Safe Routes to School can assist with everything from program development, to infrastructure improvements, to marketing materials – and it’s not just for the tots either! Think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks or get a teenager to give up their new set of wheels? Just this spring Broughton High School students organized a Bike to School Day and more than 200 students participated.
So get excited, and be on the lookout for more information about SRTS. Oh – and please feel free to share info about SRTS in other Triangle municipalities (or wherever you moved from if you’re a transplant like me) in comments!
Special thanks go to www.saferoutesinfo.org and Steven Waters, Chair of Raleigh BPAC, for information for this blog.