Safe Routes to School State Programs

Influence Program Quality

Background

When the federal transportation act SAFETEA-LU designated $612 million over five years (FY05-09) for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, each State Department of Transportation (DOT) was given flexibility to develop their own application guidelines for the state programs. States are required to comply with the federal legislation, section 1404; to help with this, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provided guidance to State DOTs regarding the distribution and tracking of funds. With these tools in hand, each State DOT has developed or is in the process of developing their own methods to distribute the SRTS funds. As such, there is considerable variation in process from state to state, and each state is in charge of its own program. To learn more about how the SRTS federal funding and construction process works for states and local grantees, read the Partnership’s Five Steps to Federal Funding.

The federal legislation requires that each state appoint a full-time SRTS Coordinator to manage the state’s SRTS program, and to track program expenditures. The SRTS Coordinator generally works for the DOT and is the main contact for program funding and questions in each state.

States are utilizing different approaches to address the special needs and challenges of low-income communities, either in the application process or the implementation phase. The Safe Routes to School National Partnership surveyed State SRTS Coordinators to identify best practices for serving low-income communities through the SRTS application and project delivery process.

Through federal law, each state is required to allocate between 70-90% of the SRTS funds for infrastructure projects (capital expenditures such as sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, intersection improvements, etc.), and between 10-30% for non-infrastructure activities (programs that relate to education, encouragement, and enforcement). Through federal guidance, states are encouraged to coordinate with other agencies and to establish an Advisory Committee to develop the program and to select projects and programs for funding.

In many states, applications for non-infrastructure funding have been low or of poor quality, but non-infrastructure programs are a critical element of making SRTS succeed. Making the Most of Non-Infrastructure Safe Routes to School Funds includes examples of various programs and approaches states are using to help increase the number and quality of non-infrastructure programs, which will also lead toward more walking and bicycling to school in a safe manner, goals of the federal program.

“Implementation Challenges with the Federal SRTS Program: An Examination of Title 23 Regulations, the Impact on Project Costs and Timing, and Opportunities for More Efficient Project Delivery” provides background on the existing regulatory processes, identifies best practices that many state DOTs are already undertaking, and proposes legislative and administrative solutions that could make SRTS projects more efficient, without undermining important environmental and labor projections.

Good Policies

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership encourages State DOTs to allocate the maximum amount of funding (30%) to non-infrastructure activities, which can serve entire cities, school districts or states. Allocating the maximum amount of funds to non-infrastructure allows for the state program to serve more students, as non-infrastructure activities are much less expensive than infrastructure projects. For example, if a state receive $1 million/year for SRTS (the minimum any state receives), a 30% allocation for non-infrastructure would be $300,000 per year. With those funds, the DOT could initiate a statewide program related to training, education and promotion, and also have additional funds to provide to school districts and cities to run local programs. According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, the cost to install new sidewalks on both sides of a street can cost between $150,000 and $250,000 per mile. It’s clear that states can get the biggest “bang for the buck” through maximizing non-infrastructure investments.

We also encourage states to create separate grant application processes for infrastructure applications versus non-infrastructure applications. This allows for the development of large-scale education and encouragement programs that serve entire states, cities and school districts, enabling the program to reach more students and communities. For more on our rationale for this recommendation, please see this link.

We further encourage State DOTs to establish diverse Advisory Committees to help the DOT to: 1) make decisions about the percentage of funds that will be used for infrastructure and non-infrastructure, 2) develop application guidelines for both infrastructure and non-infrastructure funds, 3) conduct outreach to communities throughout the state regarding the SRTS program, 4) establish criteria for awarding grants, 5) evaluate the grant proposals and make recommendations regarding awards, 6) revise the grant application process as more is learned about how the program works in the state, and 7) seek other opportunities to expand SRTS funding and policies to achieve the goals of more children walking and bicycling to schools safely.

It has already been substantiated that requests for SRTS funding vastly exceed the amount of money available in each state. Therefore, we encourage states to award grants to programs that include all 5Es for SRTS: evaluation, education, encouragement, engineering and enforcement. Some states have chosen to provide planning grants to allow for states to develop SRTS plans with the 5Es, and will only award infrastructure and non-infrastructure grants to those programs that can demonstrate that their SRTS programs are comprehensive in nature and involve a diverse array of stakeholders. It’s helpful for the DOT to have a separate section of their website devoted to SRTS to explain policies and procedures to the public.

Finally, we encourage State DOTs to get their application guidelines out as soon as possible, and to award SRTS funds to good projects so that we will collectively be able to show a measurable difference for improving safety and increasing walking and bicycling in all 50 states and DC. Congress has extended the program at $183 million per year starting in FY2010 until a long-term transportation reauthorization is complete. We want to see all of these federal funds allocated for SRTS.

Examples

Arizona has a distinct section of their website dedicated to SRTS which provides details related to the state program and a description of who sits on their Advisory Committee. Their first round of funding provided 17 grants for non-infrastructure projects and required the development of a local SRTS Team to run the program.

California allocates 30% of their funds to non-infrastructure (10% of the total funds for years one through four were allocated for a statewide contract for training, promotion and curriculum, and 20% of the total funds for years one through four were allocated for local non-infrastructure projects, many of which are serving entire cities).

New Jersey has a comprehensive website for SRTS which includes application guidelines, success stories, frequently asked questions, goals and strategies, and more.

In Illinois, a School Travel Plan is required prior to applying for Illinois SRTS funds. Applicants must use the online Illinois School Travel Plan planning tool, accessible through the Illinois SRTS web site, to create their personalized school plans.

Resources

Please see our state pages for specifics regarding how the federal Safe Routes to School application guidelines are structure for each state. You can view links to all of the states that have developed application guidelines thus far by clicking here.