Consensus Statement

Safe Routes to School National Partnership Consensus Statement 

We believe that Safe Routes to School is catalyzing and inspiring safe, healthy and livable communities. Our vision is that school environments are a focal point for healthy living. Our mission and vision statements can be reviewed here.

The Problem

Since the 1970s, we have seen a loss of mobility among our nation’s children that has severely impacted their personal health and their ability to explore their neighborhoods, even by walking or bicycling to school. Parents also have concerns about safety – both real and perceived – and children today have fewer opportunities to develop their independence. Consider these facts:*

  • Mobility: In 2009, just 13 percent of children ages 5 to 14 walked and bicycled to and from school—a dramatic drop from 1969 when nearly 50 percent of children got to school under their own power.1
  • Health: Estimates show that only about half of youth meet the current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans’ recommendation of at least 60 minutes of daily vigorous or mod­erate-intensity physical activity.2 There were more than four times as many overweight children in 2008 as there were in 1965.3 Childhood obesity is associated with an increase in heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
  • Air Quality: A national study found that approximately one in three U.S. public schools are located in “air pollution danger zones” within a quarter mile or less of high-traffic roadways. Health effects of exposure to traffic pollution include increased respiratory illness, asthma exacerbations, decreased lung function and decreased lung growth.4,5 Air pollution also increases school absences.6
  • Traffic Congestion: During the morning commute, driving to school represents 10 to 14 percent of traffic on the road.7
  • Traffic Safety: Nationwide, 25 percent of all children’s traffic fatalities and 15 percent of all children’s traffic injuries happen when children are walking or bicycling and are struck by cars.8
  • Equity: In low-income communities, fewer sidewalks and crosswalks plus more high-speed traffic9 result in a higher risk of children from lower-income families being injured or killed by cars when walking.10
  • School Location: Public school enrollment has nearly doubled since the 1930s; however, during this time the number of public schools has decreased by 60 percent,11 resulting in larger schools that are further away from the families they serve.
  • School Transportation: School districts are under economic pressure to cut costs and this has impacted school busing. During the 2010-2011 school year, approximately 22 percent of school districts made busing reductions due to fuel price increases, leaving many children without a safe way to school.12

These problems are all related to the fact that many communities lack basic infrastructure—sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, pathways, and crosswalks—and are no longer designed to encourage or allow children to walk and bicycle safely. Concerns about traffic, crime, and other obstacles result in children being driven to school, which further adds to the traffic on the road and pollution in the air and misses an important opportunity for physical activity.

The Solution

Safe Routes to School programs began in several communities in the United States in the late 1990s, and spread nationwide in 2005 with the passage of the federal transportation bill SAFETEA-LU. A study on the use of federal funds for Safe Routes to School in five states showed that Safe Routes to School investments increased active travel to school by 37 percent.13 Safe Routes to School continues to be eligible under the 2012 federal transportation bill MAP-21, and many states and communities are passing policies to provide additional Safe Routes to School funds.

Safe Routes to School has proven to be an effective and popular strategy for increasing physical activity among children, improving safety, reducing pollution and engaging policy makers in community design to promote smart growth and livability. Several studies and resources about Safe Routes to School’s effectiveness are available on our website.

As demand grows for healthy community design options, communities around the country are organizing Safe Routes to School programs and passing policies, with the common goals of increasing safety and improving mobility for children. Safe Routes to School also engages families and school communities to increase physical activity opportunities for children to help reverse childhood obesity trends. While each program is unique, Safe Routes to School programs and policies have common objectives:

  • Mobility: Safe Routes to School gets more children walking and bicycling to schools safely, and aims to ensure that streets around schools have an adequate number of safe places to cross and access schools.
  • Health: Safe Routes to School encourages students, families, and school staff to be physically active by walking and bicycling more often. Physical activity improves cardiovascular and muscular fitness, attention, cognition and mood, while decreasing the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer.14
  • Air Quality: Safe Routes to School helps convert car trips to walking and bicycling trips, reducing the number of cars around schools that are producing traffic pollution.
  • Traffic Congestion: Approximately 43 percent of children who live less than a mile from school are currently driven to school.15 These short trips can be shifted to walking and bicycling with the help of Safe Routes to School initiatives, easing traffic congestion on the morning commute.
  • Traffic Safety: Safe Routes to School makes streets, sidewalks, pathways, trails, and crosswalks safe, convenient and attractive for walking and bicycling to school and in daily life. The impact of this safe infrastructure is amplified by enforcing all traffic laws near schools, on school routes, and in other areas of high pedestrian and bicycle activity, and by keeping driving speeds slow near schools, on school routes and at school crossings.
  • Equity: Safe Routes to School recognizes that lower-income communities and schools often have the highest obesity rates and most dangerous traffic safety conditions, and therefore need to be prioritized for infrastructure improvements.
  • School Location: Safe Routes to School seeks to locate schools within walking and bicycling distance of as many students as possible, and not along busy streets (which are dangerous to cross and expose children to higher air pollution). It is also important to ensure high quality, equitable and diverse schools.
  • School Transportation: Safe Routes to School programs are a critical tool for school districts seeking to manage transportation costs, by prioritizing improvements in areas close enough where children could walk or bicycle to school but are currently bused due to “hazard busing” conditions.

Every community is unique, so each Safe Routes to School program must respond to the needs of the school and the community. Successful programs include some combination or all of the following approaches to improve conditions for safe walking and bicycling:

  • Encouragement: Using events and activities to promote walking and bicycling.
  • Education: Teaching children about the broad range of transportation choices, instructing them in important lifelong safety skills, and launching driver safety campaigns.
  • Engineering: Creating operational and physical improvements to the infrastructure surrounding schools, reducing speeds, and establishing safer crosswalks and pathways.
  • Enforcement: Partnering with local law enforcement to ensure drivers obey traffic laws, and initiating community enforcement such as crossing guard programs.
  • Evaluation: Monitoring and researching outcomes and trends through the collection of data.

Our nation continues to learn about best practices for Safe Routes to School programs and policies. As the Safe Routes to School movement matures, it is critical to evaluate the most effective and equitable uses of funding.

 

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is comprised of multiple constituencies at the local, state, and national levels. It includes:

  • Parents, students and educators
  • Health professionals
  • Transportation, urban planning, and engineering professionals
  • Policy makers
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Business leaders
  • Community groups
  • Social equity leaders
  • Walking and bicycling advocates
  • Environmental advocates
  • Safety and injury prevention advocates

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is a leading national organization advancing policies, strategies and programs which connect transportation with safe, healthy community designs that increase physical activity opportunities for children, families and schools. We achieve our mission by focusing on advancing policy change, and inspiring action and leadership in states and local communities, and sharing our deep knowledge and expertise through a wide range of programs, initiatives and partnerships.

In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized the Safe Routes to School National Partnership with the Game Changer Award, one of six Pioneering Innovation Awards. The award recognized the National Partnership for its accomplishments that have led to paradigm shifts that have advanced obesity prevention efforts. The National Partnership will continue to evolve to advance the overall movement, mobilize the grassroots, work with policy makers and serve as a catalyst to leverage funding and policies that result in healthy community design that serve children and families nationwide. For additional information on the annual progress of the movement and the National Partnership, visit here.

Please Join Us!

*This consensus statement will be updated as new research and information becomes available. 



End Notes

 

[1] McDonald, Noreen, Austin Brown, Lauren Marchetti, and Margo Pedroso. “U.S. School Travel 2009: An Assessment of Trends.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 41 (August 2011): 2, 146-151.

[2] Institute of Medicine, Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2013/Educating-the-Stude... (May, 2013)

[3] Ogden, Cynthia and Margaret Carroll. “Prevalence of Obesity among Children and Adolescents: United States, Trends 1963-1965 through 2007-2008.” Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics, June 2010.

[4] American Thoracic Society, Committee of the Environmental and Occupational Health Assembly. Health effects of outdoor air pollution. Part 2. Am J Respir Crit Care Med.   1996;153:477–498

[5] Ambient Air Pollution: Health Hazards to Children, Pediatrics 2004;114:1699–1707.

[6] Bates DV. The effects of air pollution on children. Environ Health Perspect. 1995;103(suppl 6):49–53.

[7] McDonald, Noreen, Austin Brown, Lauren Marchetti, and Margo Pedroso. “U.S. School Travel 2009: An Assessment of Trends.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 41 (August 2011): 2, 146-151.

[8] “Pedestrians: 2009 Data” and “Bicyclists and Other Cyclists: 2009 Data” Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2009. Available at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811394.pdf and http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/811386.pdf.

[9] Zhu, Xuemei and Chanam Lee. “Walkability and safety around elementary schools: Economic and ethnic disparities.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 34 (January 2008): 282-290.

[10] Macpherson, Alison, Ian Roberts and Barry Pless. “Children’s exposure to traffic and pedestrian injuries.” American Journal of Public Health 88 (December 1998).

[11] National Center for Education Statistics, “Table 98. Public Elementary and Secondary Schools by Type and State or Jurisdiction; 1990-91, 2000-02; and 2006-07.”

[12] Babcock, Stephane. “STN Fuel Survey: Schools feeling pinch from rise in prices.” STN Online, March 14, 2011. Accessed June 1, 2011, www.stnonline.com/home/top-stories/3218-stn-fuel-survey-schools-feeling-....

[13] Moudon, Anne Verdez and Orion Stewart. “Moving Forward: Safe Routes to School Progress in Five States.” Seattle: Washington State Department of Transportation, July 2012.

[14] The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, www.health.gov/paguidelines/

[15] McDonald, Noreen, Austin Brown, Lauren Marchetti, and Margo Pedroso. “U.S. School Travel 2009: An Assessment of Trends.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 41 (August 2011): 2, 146-151.