What is Safe Routes to School?

Safe Routes to School is a national and international movement to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools. The program has been designed to reverse the decline in children walking and bicycling to schools. Safe Routes to School can also play a critical role in reversing the alarming nationwide trend toward childhood obesity and inactivity.

In 1969, approximately 50 percent of children in the US walked or bicycled to school, with approximately 87 percent of children living within one mile of school walking or bicycling. Today, fewer than 15 percent of schoolchildren walk or bicycle to school.

As a result, kids today are less active, less independent and less healthy. In 2009, US families drove 30 billion miles to take their children to and from school, at a cost of $5 billion in fuel. During the morning commute, driving to school represents 5-7 percent of miles driven and 10-14 percent of traffic on the road.

Concerned by the long-term health and traffic consequences of this trend, in 2005, the U.S. Congress approved $612 million in funding for five years of state implementation of Safe Routes to School programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Congress extended the program at $183 million per year starting in FY2010 and approximately $1.1 billion was allocated by Congress for Safe Routes to School programs through 2012. With the 2012 federal transportation bill MAP-21, Safe Routes to School is still an eligible program. Communities are using this funding to construct new bicycle lanes, pathways and sidewalks, as well as to launch Safe Routes to School education, promotion and enforcement campaigns in elementary and middle schools.

Safe Routes to School programs are built on collaborative partnerships among many stakeholders that should include educators, parent, students, elected officials, engineers, city planners and engineers, business and community leaders, health officials, and bicycle and pedestrian advocates.

The most successful Safe Routes to School programs incorporate the Five E’s evaluation, education, encouragement, engineering and enforcement. The goal of Safe Routes to School is to get more children bicycling and walking to schools safely on an everyday basis. This improves the built environment and increases opportunities for healthy physical activity for everyone.