Legislation

Safe Routes to School State Legislation

Programs and Funds

Background

Safe Routes to School emerged nationally when federal legislation passed in August 2005, which included $612 million for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for FY05-09. Congress has extended the program at $183 million per year starting in FY2010 until a long-term transportation reauthorization is complete. This federal SRTS program was created by Section 1404 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users Act (SAFETEA-LU). The state SRTS Programs are administered by State Departments of Transportation (DOTs). Before SAFETEA-LU was approved, many states had already passed SRTS legislation, including California, Colorado,Delaware, Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas, among others.

Safe Routes to School-oriented state legislation can accomplish several things. It can provide access to state or other federal funds that can supplement (but hopefully not replace) the federal SRTS funds. It can guide the way the SRTS funds and programs are implemented, such as by directing a particular agency to administer the program, by ensuring that a certain approach is taken in awarding funds, or by ensuring that best practices are utilized by communities receiving funds. SRTS legislation can also be associated with other aspects of making the route to school safer such as implementing double fine zones, reducing speed limits, or mandating that school wellness policies address school travel issues.

All of these steps can help to make SRTS programs more affordable and accessible to local communities, and increase the potential for success. However, poorly written legislation can be merely symbolic, or even detrimental. Symbolic legislation can still be a way to ‘open the door’ to SRTS; it may make it easier to later introduce a more meaningful bill, since the concept would have already been generally accepted.

It is important that SRTS legislative efforts in states be advised by a diverse group of stakeholders, including those who implement SRTS programs, in order to leverage expertise and multi-disciplinary perspectives.


Good Policies

A model SRTS bill will include access to permanent sources of funds and provide expert direction for program efforts. It will also require that local programs are guided by a diverse group of stakeholders, in order to leverage expertise and multi-disciplinary perspectives. And it will require that all the elements that affect the ability of children to walk and bike to school are considered when developing a local program, including the 5Es, encouragement, education, engineering, enforcement and evaluation.


Examples

California’s legislation approved in 1999, dedicated one third of federal Surface Transportation Safety set-asides to local Safe Routes to School programs. This funding approach now translated to between $18 and $30 million annually for local programs through 2007. The state is currently considering AB57 to continue state support for SRTS.

The Colorado Safe Routes to School bill, which became law in June 2004, created a program within the Colorado Department of Transportation to apply a portion of federal safety funds for projects around schools.

Delaware passed legislation in 2002 that authorized the DOT to establish and administer a Safe Routes to School program using federal transportation funds for bicycle and pedestrian safety and traffic calming measures.

By the time Oregon passed its first SRTS law in 2001, HB 3712, it had been watered down to the following statement: City and county governing bodies shall work with school district personnel to identify barriers and hazards to children walking or bicycling to and from school. The cities, counties and districts may develop a plan for the funding of improvements designed to reduce the barriers and hazards identified. This minor bill opened the door for the successful 2005 bill, HB 2742, which created a SRTS program and fund to assist communities in identifying and reducing barriers and hazards to children walking or bicycling to and from school. This bill includes criteria for developing a SRTS plan, and provides for Education, Engineering and Enforcement elements. Through this bill, the Department of Transportation, which also administers the federal SRTS funds, requires the completion of an Action Plan, and encourages applicants to consider all of the elements.

Pennsylvania combines Safe Routes to School with another program, “Home Town Streets.” Both are intended to improve quality of life in Pennsylvania communities. The SRTS objective is “To establish, where feasible, safe walking routes for our children to commute to school and to promote healthy living.” It dedicates up to $200 million over four years to fund both the SRTS and Home Town Streets programs. Funds can be used for physical improvements that promote safe walking and bicycling to schools, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes or trails, traffic diversion improvements, etc. SRTS funds can also be used for pedestrian education.

The 2004 South Carolina Safe Routes to Schools Act states that municipal and county governing bodies shall work with school districts located in their jurisdictions to identify barriers and hazards to children walking or bicycling to and from school. The municipalities, counties, and districts may develop a plan for the funding of improvements designed to reduce the barriers and hazards identified. Each school district in the state may establish a Safe Routes to School District Coordinating Committee. Any school within the district may establish a Safe Routes to School Team. The team shall include parents, children, teachers, administrators, and neighbors of the school. The team may be expanded to include local law enforcement officials, public health officials, and other persons familiar with the transportation needs of the school. The first Wednesday of October of each year is designated as ‘Walk or Bicycle with Your Child to School Day’ in each school district of the state.

The Texas Legislature passed the “Matthew Brown Act” into law in 2001. The Act includes the Safe Routes to School Program, which is designed to create safe ways for children to reach school. The program adds new crosswalks, trails, and bike lanes to the existing infrastructure as well as promotes traffic calming measures.


Resources

Federal Highway Administration website - Section 1404 of the SAFETEA-LU legislation.

Safe Routes to School National Partnership state of states.