Safe Routes to School Full Steam Ahead in the Southwest

Safe Routes to School has grown leaps and bounds in the Phoenix area since the inception of the program. When MAP21 came along, Arizona DOT subcontracted the Safe Routes to School and Transportation Alternatives programs to MPOs and Councils of governments, which kept the ball rolling in the right direction. Phoenix has steamrolled ahead with a dedicated employee who works with 75 schools every year in the spring and fall with various pedestrian and biking events, including some law enforcement education. This work reaches tens of thousands of students each year.

One of the main challenges Safe Routes to School in Phoenix faces is the driving culture of the suburban environment, and how to best keep the momentum of the program going in the midst of it. One way they are striving to overcome this is through improved infrastructure around schools. The city of Tempe put in raised intersections, one in front of two neighboring schools, to slow down traffic on a large neighborhood roadway. This is a great way to address speeding drivers who oftentimes ignore signs, but have to slow down with the intersection is raised.

Additionally, a year and a half ago, Phoenix passed a sales tax that devotes a percentage to funding transportation safety improvements, including transit, bike and pedestrian improvements. Studies are being conducted through this funding, with schools popping up as the destination type most common to each area being studied. 11 studies are under way, with another 30 in the queue, covering all parts of the city – over 1500 square miles – resulting in projects that will be fast-tracked to design and construction. This is a fantastic opportunity to make it easier and safer for children to walk and bike to school.

Former AZ State Safe Routes to School coordinator, Brian Fellows (and current transportation planner working on the aforementioned studies), shared a favorite memory from working on Safe Routes to School in Arizona. He used to hold national course Safe Routes to School workshops throughout the state, and remembers clearly a workshop held at a tribal community west of Tucson for the Tohono O'odham tribe. Even though it was an abbreviated workshop in a remote area, it turned out to be the largest workshop they ever held.

Locally, there is hope for tweaks to federal legislation to provide additional funding to boost the movement. In the meantime, Phoenix is moving forward with plans to improve infrastructure all over the city bringing safer routes to everyone, including children as they actively commute to school.