Safe Routes to School Works: The Proof Is in the Pedaling

kelechiEver wondered how effective Safe Routes to School programs are at increasing walking and bicycling to school? A new multi-state study gives a resounding answer to that question. In a recent five-state study, Washington State Department of Transportation, in collaboration with other state DOTs, reported on the Safe Routes to School programs in Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. What they found was rather encouraging.

First, in the five states, more than 1400 schools and 781,000 children have been reached as a result of Safe Routes to School funding; this is roughly 11 percent of the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade public school population in the five states. While these findings are exciting, the authors note that the percentages are even higher at the national scale, with Safe Routes to School funding reaching roughly 14 percent of the nation’s public school population. Imagine the reach and impact that more Safe Routes to School funding would make possible!

Second, engineering projects made up about 72 percent of the funding in the five states, with sidewalk projects featured in about 69 percent of these projects. Interestingly, the engineering projects that were on smaller scales (affected fewer schools and students) and included encouragement and education components tended to perform better. As a result, rates of walking increased by 45 percent, bicycling increased by 24 percent, and all active travel to school increased by 37 percent in these five states. Safe Routes to School funds are certainly delivering a return on investment.

Finally, the study findings suggested that Safe Routes to School projects may be more effective at encouraging bicycling to school where few children already do so. What does that mean? Bicycling is contagious! The more kids bicycle, the more others will want to join in the fun.

So if anyone is wondering how effective Safe Routes to School programs are, I am happy to report that Safe Routes to School works! But it only works when two conditions are met: Safe Routes to School programs need both financial and community support. This study offers evidence that the Safe Routes to School program is achieving one of its primary goals of increasing rates of walking and bicycling to school. The proof is in the pedaling!

So encourage your government officials, school personnel and neighbors to support the Safe Routes to School movement today!