Tallying the Benefits of Safe Routes to School for North Carolina

Terry LansdellAnswering this is easy. The Safe Routes Partnership works to make changes to the built environment so that generations of children can bicycle and walk to school. Not only is it a great way to improve children’s lives, but it reminds adults about the simple joys of walking and bicycling with their family, friends and neighbors. 

But what is real and real for North Carolina is the impact on school budgets, traffic congestion, air quality and the quality of life of our youngest most vulnerable residents. 

Safe Routes to School helps schools deal with budget cuts to busing. For Rowan-Salisbury Schools making it safe for kids to walk and bicycle to school helps eliminate the need to draw as much from its state (59 percent) and federal funding sources (20 percent) for transportation. Across the state for every 1 percent of school busing reduced by walking and bicycling, we see significant savings. The cost of operating a school bus for a year is not that much different than a starting teacher’s yearly salary. Providing Safe Routes to School can keep money inside the classroom.

Transportation costs for those closest to schools should not fall solely on the families. Having that same 1 percent walk or bicycle to school reduces vehicle miles traveled and saves millions in fuel costs for the families. Having safe walkable and bikeable neighborhoods enhances the quality of life for all residents and property values increase. Providing Safe Routes to School keeps money inside the home.

Eight North Carolina counties are facing a non-attainment designation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which may delay millions of dollars of federal funds for projects. Reducing the air pollution in these counties is mandated and progress must be shown in the next three years. Reducing congestion and commute times for the up to 40 percent of trips taken during morning rush hour to drop kids off at school would significantly contribute to that goal. Providing Safe Routes to School helps clear the air and keeps money in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program has more than $19 million ready and waiting to award and obligate, but the clock is ticking.  While these funds can be distributed under the current transportation bill, future Safe Routes to School projects will have to compete with other types of projects under MAP-21, the new transportation bill. We need to get that $19 million obligated while we know it is still dedicated to solutions!

The Safe Routes Safe Routes Partnership has staff and partners in North Carolina who are changing policies, helping local leaders and giving parents more choices for their kids’ health and safety. So let’s keep Safe Routes to School alive and bigger and better and keep the money with our kids.