Safe Routes to School
Kids and families can more easily incorporate physical activity into their daily routines if their communities are bike- and wheel-friendly
Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) is a policy that promotes walking and wheeling to and from school by providing communities with resources to build sidewalks and bike paths, add crosswalks, and improve lighting and signage to ensure safe conditions. Although the program is focused on getting to school, the ultimate goal of building walking and biking infrastructure should support activity throughout a given community.
Between 2005 and 2012, the federal SRTS program provided more than $1 billion in funding to states and communities to support infrastructure improvements and education to make it easier and safer for children to walk and wheel to and from school. Subsequently, SRTS was combined with other federal programs designed to encourage walking and wheeling; the Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program for transportation alternatives provides $850 million annually through 2020 to fund SRTS and related projects.
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many public parks were closed or facility use was limited. And months of school closures have prevented many students from engaging in the regular activity they would get during recess and physical education class. But being active may help reduce one’s risk for COVID-19 or reduce the strength of symptoms if one does become sick.
Many existing policy options for making physical activity easier and safer still apply, even during the pandemic. For instance, the Safe Routes Partnership has published resources to assist communities in implementing their Safe Routes to School strategies in ways that are safe for their communities in the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
While the pandemic continues, state and local leaders should work together to support access to and use of parks in ways that are safe given local conditions.
As states and school districts consider their school reopening plans, they should try to incorporate opportunities for physical activity for students in ways that are safe and healthy given local conditions.
Featured Studies and Resources
“Walk. Bike. Get Fit.” in Arizona
With federal SRTS funding secured by the Arizona Department of Transportation, Kinsey Elementary School in Flagstaff, Arizona, implemented a comprehensive safety education program called “Walk. Bike. Get Fit.” The percentage of students walking and biking to school rose from 6% to 25%.
Investing in Safe Routes
This report reviews the economic benefits of Safe Routes to School, including reducing costs of obesity due to increased physical activity.
Build a Safe Routes Program
In 2019, Safe Routes Partnership published a step-by-step guide that can help your school start a Safe Routes to School Program or strengthen an existing one.
State Policies on Safe Routes to School
Does your state support walking and wheeling to school in ways that are safe and equitable? Not even a fourth of states do.
Children from low-income families are twice as likely to walk to school as children from higher-income families.
A study in New York City found Safe Routes to School infrastructure reduced pedestrian injuries from school travel by 44 percent.
Overall, 34 states have some form of a Complete Streets policy in place.