Sustaining Safe Routes to School

Christine GreenSustaining a Safe Routes to School program is on everyone’s mind. On a recent call with Virginia Department of Transportation SRTS Coordinator, Rob Williams, he discussed their program’s willingness to fund Safe Routes to School coordinators under their non-infrastructure grants but that coordinators should create a sustainability plan. Luckily, there are a few examples in the Greater Washington, DC area.

Last month, I discussed that Montgomery County, Maryland has already stepped up and funded 50 percent of their Safe Routes to School coordinator. Dedicating local funding is one way to sustain a Safe Routes to School program locally. The Safe Routes to School coordinator, Nadji Kirby, also involves other community organizations in the Montgomery County programs. Partnerships with the county’s Fire and Rescue Services, police department and their local SafeKids chapter utilize existing resources to educate and excite the students. Schools and parents can easily work with the organizations on their own once the relationship is established.

A great example of a comprehensive sustainability plan is the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) in Virginia. ACPS has been funded with state Safe Routes to School dollars since 2007 with infrastructure funds and since 2008 with non-infrastructure funds. ACPS has had a successful program focusing on education and encouragement run by the non-profit TrailsforYouth.org (TYO).

In 2008 TYO coordinated a pilot initiative at Mount Vernon Community (Elementary) School supported by Safe Routes to School state network project. In the first year at the school, high profile walk to school days and bike rodeos brought attention to the effort. Building upon this initial effort, the City of Alexandria worked with TYO to create a school district-wide program. TYO now works with 11 elementary and middle schools to promote healthy active transportation for school children reaching nearly 5,000 students annually.

Through these efforts, TYO has created a locally focused Safe Routes to School how-to manual that provides interested teachers and parents the tips, tricks and step-by-step instructions to lead Safe Routes to School efforts within their schools. The manual allows teachers and or parents to replicate successful events and strategies on their own. TYO’s executive director, Julie Childers, states, “in the first two years of a Safe Routes to School program, the focus is on changing the culture, getting the kids excited and helping the parents to realize walking and bicycling to school is possible and safe. By year three, the parents, kids and the school are in a routine, expect events and want to participate. This makes sustainability easier and obtainable.” A key to success is community support from the school, parents and supporters of TYO who implement youth bicycle-related programs year round for local students.

The District of Columbia Safe Routes to School program takes the approach of a school and parent-driven planning process from the beginning. SRTS Coordinator, Jennifer Hefferan, has a defined four-step process. Parents and the school have ownership from the beginning. Using this method, Jennifer does not have to be the implementer—Safe Routes to School lives on in the plan and parents who will pass it on.

In all three of these communities, the local governments have been engaged in evaluating infrastructure around schools and committing their own funds or taking the lead to apply for Safe Routes to School infrastructure grants. All Five E’s are addressed and kids are safer and happier walking and bicycling to school!

For more information on the Greater Washington, DC area regional network, check out our regional website, Facebook page or follow us on Twitter (@SafeRoutesDC).