Re-Thinking How We Message Safe Routes to School on the Hill

Margo PedrosoAt the National Bike Summit this year, Douglas Meyer from Bernuth & Williamson presented some fascinating results about what Congressional allies and opponents think about bicycling. The League of American Bicyclists hired Meyer to conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of individuals on the Hill—and while the questions were about bicycling, they are instructive for Safe Routes to School. I think the results are something that advocates can use at the local level, too, when talking to public policymakers. 

In this short space, I can only hit on some of the highlights. If you are interested, I’d encourage you to take a look at the full presentation from the National Bike Summit.

Study Finding

How to Apply to Safe Routes to School

Stop touting bicycling as the best choice for transportation, and start talking about it as part of multi-modal transportation options.


Say: There will always be kids arriving in buses and parent vehicles—but Safe Routes to School helps ensure kids who live nearby can safely walk and bicycle—and that it’s safe for kids arriving through all modes. This is about making sure parents and schools have safe choices for getting kids to school. 

It’s not helpful to talk about simply increasing bicycling and the benefits to bicyclists—talk about the economic and safety benefits to the community and drivers to have these transportation options.

Say: Safe Routes to School is all about creating safe and healthy schools and neighborhoods with safe and less congested traffic patterns, and manageable busing costs for schools. 

Data can be helpful – but the personal experiences are what really matter.

Do: Get those policymakers you need to influence out to see your school. If you are in desperate need of Safe Routes to School funding, have them come at arrival or dismissal so they can see the traffic backup and safety challenges. If you have Safe Routes to School funding, have them come to a bike/walk to school event or a ribbon-cutting for new infrastructure to see the impact. Check out our toolkit for planning a Congressional visit for ideas.

For more ideas on how to reframe your messages around Safe Routes to School, take a look at our Safe Routes to School: Saving Lives and Dollars report and fact sheet. The report really focuses on making the financial and safety case for why Safe Routes to School matters, and fits well within the study findings.

Interestingly, we are already putting these findings into action on the Hill as we advocate for a safety performance measure on bicycling and walking. This is a simple concept:  each state should look at their data on non-motorized deaths, and if it’s an issue, use the most appropriate methods within their state to reduce those deaths. This new approach to bicycle and pedestrian safety is working:  a total of 69 members of the House signed in support of this (thanks to all the National Bike Summit participants who visited hundreds of offices to ask for their support) and we are currently securing supporters on a similar letter in the Senate that we hope will be similarly successful.

I know I’ll be keeping these findings and lessons in mind as we start to think about what’s next for Safe Routes to School, Transportation Alternatives and the next transportation bill.