Often, during the evaluation process, survey data will indicate that there are significant concerns about the designs of streets, intersections, lack of sidewalks/crosswalks/signage or poorly timed traffic lights. Changes to the built environment through engineering improvements are a critical component of Safe Routes to School so most successful programs include a thorough community assessment of the barriers for children walking and bicycling to school.
Safe Routes to School programs often organize walking and bicycling audits so that parents can join city engineers and police officers in walking the routes to school and identifying everyday problems that children encounter, including complaints such as: it’s impossible to cross the street, the sidewalk ends, there is no bike trail, the cars go too fast, etc. These audits, sometimes referred to as “walk-a-bouts”, can also identify opportunities such as short-cuts and preferred routes that children could take to schools.
Through a community-wide approach to engineering, a wish list of capital improvements can be generated and separated into two categories: short-term improvements and long-term improvements. Short-term improvements such as landscaping maintenance, altering the timing of traffic lights, painting crosswalks or installing stop signs are immediate fixes which can be done on a small budget within a short time frame, often through the use of a city’s general funds. Long-term needs such as installing sidewalks, pathways, bridges and reconstructing intersections should be prioritized as part of the capital improvement plan for the city.