Hawaii Creates New Safe Routes to School Funds!

Robert PingThis month has been a tough one for Safe Routes to School supporters. We lost our dedicated federal program funds in the new transportation bill (MAP-21), and overall federal funds for bicycling and walking in general were reduced by 30 percent compared to the previous transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU). But Hawaii, America's tropical paradise, has great Safe Routes to School supporters and champions. Among them is a passionate and high energy advocate named Bev Brody, who is the island coordinator for Get Fit Kauai, which is part of a statewide health partnership between the Hawaii Department of Health and the University of Hawaii. Kauai has achieved some Safe Routes to School success in the past two years through a federal Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant, but the grant is running out. Bev has been trying to find a way to keep the momentum going, which is especially important now since new federal Safe Routes to School funding could be difficult or impossible to get - each state now has the power to decide not to spend any new federal money on Safe Routes to School (or even more than before, but that is a big gamble in most states).

Bev attended the Safe Routes Partnership's Annual Meeting in the summer of 2011 and learned about traffic fines as a way to fund Safe Routes to School. Inspired by this idea, Bev went back home, got some input from our director, Deb Hubsmith, talked with Hawaii State Representative Derek Kawakami, proposed the fines idea to him, and together they wrote draft legislation that would bring traffic fine revenue directly to Hawaii's counties (each island is its own county) that would fund Safe Routes to School programs modeled after the outgoing federal program. This bill was a way to guarantee permanent Safe Routes to School funds for all of Hawaii.

And guess what? The new bill, HB 2626, was just signed by Hawaii's governor! The photo here shows the bill's supporters posing with Governor Neil Abercrombie during the Hawaii SRTS Bill signingsigning ceremony - Bev Brody is just to his left. This law is historic in that it is the first Hawaii legislation that gives traffic fines money directly to counties to spend, instead of letting the state government decide what to do with it. It is also historic because Hawaii is now the first US state to pass supportive Safe Routes to School legislation after the new federal transportation bill became law. The new Hawaii law "assesses a surcharge of $25 for violations of speeding in a school zone and a $10 surcharge on various traffic violations and deposits these surcharges into a Safe Routes to School program special fund". The law creates county Safe Routes to School program coordinators who will provide "...school-based and community-based workshops and infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects that will reduce vehicular traffic and congestion, encourage walking and bicycling, and promote health and safety around Hawaii's schools." The goal of the program is to "...enhance traffic safety around Hawaii's schools, enable and encourage children to walk and bicycle to school, and make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative." Sounds great to me!

Bev Brody will attend our 2012 Annual Meeting to tell us more about how they got this done in Hawaii as part of our panel session on sustaining Safe Routes to School without federal funds. Join us if you can! The meeting is on Monday, September 10 at 1-5pm pacific, in Long Beach, California, the day before the Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2012: Pro Place conference begins. Email brooke [at] saferoutespartnership [dot] org to join our Annual Meeting.