What is Safe Routes to Schools?
Safe Routes to School is an international movement that has taken hold in communities throughout the United States. The concept is to increase the number of children who walk or bicycle to school by funding projects that remove the barriers that currently prevent them from doing so. Those barriers include lack of infrastructure, unsafe infrastructure, lack of programs that promote walking and bicycling through education/encouragement programs aimed at children, parents, and the community.
Why is Safe Routes to Schools important?
Thirty years ago, 60% of children living within a 2-mile radius of a school walked or bicycled to school. Today, that number has dropped to less than 15%. Roughly 25% commute by school bus, and well over half are driven to or from school in vehicles. And back then, 5% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 were considered to be overweight or obese. Today, that number has climbed to 20%. These statistics point to a rise in preventable childhood diseases, worsening air quality and congestion around schools, and missed opportunities for children to grow into self reliant, independent adults.
Safe Routes to School Programs are intended to reverse these trends by funding projects that improve safety and efforts that promote walking and bicycling within a collaborative community framework. It is through local champions working with a coalition of parents, schools, professionals in transportation, engineering, health, and law enforcement, that the most sustainable projects are expected to emerge.
State and Federal Safe Routes to School Programs
There are two separate Safe Routes to School Programs administered by Caltrans.
There is the State-legislated program referred to as SR2S and there is the Federal Program referred to as SRTS.
Napa Safe Routes to Schools
Safe Routes to School (SRTS) in Napa County is a movement to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to walk and bike to and from school. We promote the program with educational events, student prizes, and safety projects in with school staff and volunteers, police departments, public health staff, and city traffic managers. The Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency partners the Napa County Office of Education to provide SR2S programs.
CLICK HERE to go to the Napa County Safe Routes to School Website.
The Napa Safe Routes to School program is part of the solution to increase physical activity and improve unsafe walking and bicycling conditions. It may also improve air quality. The school setting provides a unique opportunity to create an environment that encourages walking and bicycling as a way to travel to and from school and, especially for walking, as an activity during the school day. This holds the potential to reach the vast majority of children who regularly attend and must travel to school.
Walking does not require special skills or expensive equipment, which makes it feasible for most of the population. School-based walking programs have the potential to address several of the most commonly cited barriers to physical activity, including motor vehicle traffic dangers and lack of a safe environment. Walking and bicycling to and from school can contribute towards the development of a lifelong habit and a community-wide norm of incorporating physical activity into daily routines. Children who walk to school are more physically active overall than those who travel to school by motor vehicle, although the journey to school itself contributed relatively little.
Today, more than ever, there is a need to provide options that allow children to walk and bicycle to school safely. Many communities struggle with traffic congestion around schools and motor vehicle emissions polluting the environment. At the same time, children in general engage in less physical activity, which contributes to the growing epidemic of obesity. At first glance, these problems may seem to be separate issues, but Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs can address all these challenges through a coordinated action plan.
The Napa County Safe Routes to School Program examines why few children are walking and bicycling to school, what caused this shift from a generation ago and the unintended consequences that possibly result. SRTS programs have a growing record of success as communities seek to increase the number of children walking and bicycling safely to school.
Napa SRTS program uses a variety of education, engineering and enforcement strategies that help make routes safer for children to walk and bicycle to school and encouragement strategies to entice more children to walk and bicycle. They have grown popular in recent years in response to problems created by an expanding built environment, a growing reliance on motor vehicles for student transportation and with the more recent development of federal and state funding of SRTS programs.
Each school starts from a unique situation and with different circumstances. Some schools have great places for walking and bicycling but few students are taking advantage of it. Other communities have children walking and bicycling to school in unsafe conditions or along poorly maintained routes, while some communities do not have children walking or bicycling to school at all. Successful past SRTS programs involve the whole community. Parents, children, neighborhood groups, schools, law enforcement officers, community leaders and transportation and public health professionals help identify the issues and solutions.
The implications of Napa SRTS can be far-reaching. Our program can help improve safety, not just for children, but for a community of pedestrians and bicyclists. It provides opportunities for people to become more physically active and to rely less on their motor vehicles. SRTS program benefit the environment and a community’s quality of life by reducing traffic congestion and motor vehicle emissions.
For communities concerned about traffic jams, unsafe walking conditions, physically inactive lifestyles and overall quality of life, the SRTS program can be an effective starting point for tackling these issues.