Change is inevitable, it is said. It is how we choose to adapt to this change that is central in the New York Times bestseller “Who Moved My Cheese?” that eloquently describes our instinctual response to change through a parable about two mice and two mini-people whose cheese supply has been moved. While the mini-people are unable to adapt and thus starve from the absence of their cheese, the mice instinctually adjust by searching for the old and perhaps even uncovering new sources of cheese. This tale is especially pertinent as Safe Routes to School advocates across the country woke up in late June to the realization that MAP-21, the new federal transportation bill, had in essence moved their cheese. I do not think it is news that we at the Safe Routes Partnership, along with many of our partners, oppose the new transportation bill. In the days following the passage of the bill I’ve found myself, like many, searching for the silver lining. (and wondering where I might find some delicious cheese)
As a part of its funding mechanism, Transportation Alternatives, a program under MAP-21 that lumps together the three previous federal bicycle and pedestrian programs - Transportation Enhancements, Recreational Trails and Safe Routes to School - allocates half of its total funding to State Departments of Transportation and half to Metropolitan Planning Organizations to distribute through their own competitive grant processes. (although states can choose to opt out of spending their half on bicycling and walking). This means that Safe Routes to School projects will compete in a combined funding pot with other bicycling and walking projects as well as the new eligibilities of environmental mitigation and boulevard construction. What does this mean? It means that in order to successfully compete, potential Safe Routes to School projects will need to be leaner, meaner and more effective than ever!
Interestingly enough, in 2009, 50 communities across the country were selected to participate in Communities Putting Prevention to Work , a stimulus-funded project that worked at the county-level to increase opportunities for healthy eating and active living through policy, systems and environmental changes. Many of these communities adopted Safe Routes to School as an overall strategy and spent the duration of the project pursuing opportunities to institutionalize policies, systems and environmental changes that would support walking and bicycling to school and in daily life. The efforts of five of these communities are highlighted in a new report published by the Safe Routes Partnership entitled: “Communities Putting Prevention to Work: Advancing Safe Routes to School at the County Level”.
As we pause to consider the effects of MAP-21 and create a strategy for the next transportation bill we need to find ways to ensure our Safe Routes to School projects are even more impactful by building strong local relationships while stretching our transportation dollars and encouraging our local governments to further invest in Safe Routes to School. Our cheese has been moved, but we are not the type to give up and starve. Hopefully the stories and strategies outlined in Communities Putting Prevention to Work: Advancing Safe Routes to School at the County Level are an excellent primer for getting started.