Shared Use and Street Scale Policies In Action

Mikaela RandolphKeith BenjaminThis blog post was written by Mikaela Randolph, shared use campaign manager, and Keith Benjamin, street scale campaign manager. Mikaela and Keith are leading the Safe Routes Partnership's collaboration in the Voices for Healthy Kids: Active Places campaign.

Today, during the hustle and bustle of your day, take a look around your community and observe what you see. How do you primarily get to work, to the grocery store, to the gym, to drop your children off at school? Would you be able to reach those locations without dependence on a car? How safe are your children and your neighbor’s children? Do the children play in the streets because the parks are not safe due to increased gang activity? Does your neighborhood have proper sidewalks for you and your children to walk to the nearest open area? Do school doors close right after the bell rings, leaving the streets – complete with cars and trucks – as the only place for children in this neighborhood to be physically active?

Did you know that you have a say in how your community is designed? Did you know that there are organizations in the health, education, transportation, civil rights and law enforcement communities that fight every day on these issues to make communities safer and easier for getting physical activity?

Promising street scale and shared use strategies are emerging to combat the lack of physical activity and alternative transportation in underserved neighborhoods, especially those communities adversely affected by obesity are continuously emerging, and the need is tremendous. Americans in the lowest 20 percent income bracket spend about 42 percent of their total annual incomes on transportation, compared to 22 percent among middle-income Americans.1 Households with incomes below $25,000 comprise 65 percent of households without vehicles.2 And jobs in car-dependent areas are disproportionately inaccessible to people of color: 19 percent of African Americans and 13.7 percent of Latinos lack access to cars, compared with only 4.6 percent of Whites.3

These statistics, though eye opening, make three important strategies clear:

  1. Active communities require equitable access to schools, food, health and jobs for everyone.
  2. Advocacy for job creation, healthy food choices, and safe communities are directly connected with physical activity and alterative transportation.
  3. A walkable, livable community should not be a privilege granted only to the affluent. Walkable, livable communities should be available to everyone.

Voices for Healthy Kids, a collaboration between the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is an initiative that aims to engage, organize, and mobilize people to improve the health of their communities and reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. The initiative has six key strategy areas, and the Safe Routes Partnership will focus on increasing physical activity through shared use and street-scale improvements through Voices for Healthy Kids: Active Places.

Our shared use and street scale advocacy efforts will operate at the local and state level, with a specific focus on addressing equity in underserved communities (i.e. low-income areas and communities of color). Through the formation of national task forces at the local and state levels, the Safe Routes Partnership will identify strategic campaign opportunities all over the country with communities that are making strides to achieve one or more of the following policy goals:

  • Clarifying liability laws for shared use agreement 
  • Efforts to support appropriations for state level shared use programs and incentives to promote Shared Use Agreements
  • Codify Safe Routes to School Programs (SRTS) in state laws and provide state level funding to enhance federal appropriations
  • Securing Safe Routes to School/bike/ped funds from MAP-21
  • Complete Streets policies at state and local levels
  • Securing a percentage of state appropriations through the transportation budget for bike/ped

Through this identification process, Voices for Healthy Kids: Active Places will be able to provide community coalitions, organizations and everyday citizens with support, resources, and technical assistance to help existing coalitions achieve policy successes.

Here are a few examples of recent successes, and the types of campaigns we will support.

Shared Use Agreements

In Los Angeles County, shared use agreements were put in to practice by the Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Jonathan Fielding, with help from a Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant called Renewing Environment for Nutrition, Exercise and Wellness (RENEW L.A. County). LA County is the most populous county in the United States. It encompasses 88 cities, 93 school districts, and more than 9.8 million people. In LA County, 24.3 percent of adults and more than 20 percent of students in junior high school are obese. Unfortunately, the rates are disproportionally higher in low-income neighborhoods. Within a one-mile radius, the childhood obesity rate is as low as 4 percent in one neighborhood and as high as 37 percent in another.

Eighteen shared use agreements were implemented in seven school districts, including eight in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second largest school district. In LAUSD, 70 percent of the student population is Hispanic and 10 percent African-American,4 75 percent of students participate in the free and or reduced lunch,5 and over 70 percent of the students at the 5th, 7th, and 9th grade levels are outside of the Healthy Fitness Zone (HFZ) in aerobic capacity and body composition.6 During the RENEW period, five new school district level policies were adopted, enabling more shared use agreements at the school site level.

A Closer look at Shared Use in Action

Los Angeles, California. Home to sunshine, warm weather, and beautiful coastlines, Los Angeles provides amazing opportunities for physical activity in the sun. Yet similar to many communities across the country, not every community has safe access to physical activity. In Compton, CA, parks don’t often offer a solution to the lack of opportunities for physical activity. Members of the community are often pushed out of the parks by gangs, and parks suffer from a lack of adequate programming to fit the community’s needs. Swimming pools in park space are traditionally open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, and then the pools are drained and remain closed until the next summer’s swim season.

In a pilot project launched in the fall of 2011 through a partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and the Compton Unified School District, members of the community were able to receive swimming lessons at no cost from the Lenny Krayzelburg Foundation, which works with children in underserved communities to master water safety skills and introduce them to the sport of swimming.

Tony Grutman, Executive Director of the Lenny Krayzelburg Foundation, says, “You should see these women who are so happy to be able to swim for free in their community, they say they feel more healthy by being able to swim five days a week in their own community.” A fourth grader at the adjacent George Washington Carver Elementary School said, “I think I found my sport. I want to be a swimmer”

Thanks to this shared use agreement, the community was able to enjoy the swimming pool beyond the typical summer swim period into mid-December. The partnership is working to extend the class offerings to develop a swim program for the fall and spring seasons. This is just a glimpse into what the practice of shared use can do for communities: increase physical activity, expose children to sports they wouldn’t traditionally have access to, and filling in programming needs, where parks and recreation programming budgets have been slashed and much needed programming for the community.

Street Scale

In the 4th District of Philadelphia, Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. has been making rally cries for the safety of children going to and from school. With a 17-year-old student gunned down at a playground across the street from Overbrook high school, two non-fatal pedestrian car accidents involving students this year, lack of cross guards and bus routes that adequately service the children, and 146 new students coming to this part of Northwest Philadelphia this coming school year, a great deal of work needs to be done.

On June 10, 2013, Councilman Jones held a school safety summit that brought together representatives of Roxborough High School, AMY Northwest, the Office of School Safety, the Streets Department SEPTA, the Fifth and 14th Police Districts, and the Roxborough Development Corporation. The hope is that this summit triggers a collaborative effort between school officials, law enforcement, community advocates, transportation officials and parents to take every aspect of Safe Routes to School into consideration.

Across the country, these strategies are gaining momentum and people are beginning to think innovatively about creating active places that benefit everyone. Whether the community is highly urbanized or rural, the challenges to physical activity and alternative transportation are important and need to be addressed. The Safe Routes Partnership is excited to be part of the Voices for Healthy Kids collaboration working to implement shared use and street scale policies that help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic.

[2] Federal Highway Administration, “Our Nation’s Travel: 1995 NPTS Early Results Report” (1995).Cited in The Long Journey to Work.

[3] Brookings Institution and UC-Berkeley. “Socioeconomic Differences in Household Automobile Ownership Rates” at; PolicyLink, The Transportation Prescription: Bold New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable Transportation Reform in America,… at 16.

[4] California Department of Education, 2008-2009

[5] Los Angeles Unified School District Fingertip factsheets

[6] California Department of Education 2008-2009, Physical Fitness Exam