Episode 13 – Safe Routes to Schools

Topics: Safe Routes to School

Talking Traffic Episode 13 – Safe Routes to School

Today’s episode of Talking Traffic is brought to you by the letters S, R, T, and S.

Hello and welcome to another fantabulous episode of Talking Traffic. My name is Bill Ruhsam and I produce this podcast and it’s sister website, talking traffic.org. Today is Tuesday, February 19, 2008, and I’m looking forward to today’s topic. What is today’s topic, you ask? It is a federally funded, state-run program called Safe Routes to Schools, often abbreviated as SRTS. Unfortunately, it suffers from the lack of a cool acronym such as LASER or NASA or SAFTEA-LU. What’s that last one? It is the name of the most recent highway funding bill from 2005, an abbreviation of the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users” which is one of the most forced government acronyms in recent time. SAFETEA-LU authorized the Federal Safe Routes to Schools program which was developed from smaller local and state programs. I became acquainted with the Safe Routes to Schools program in 2003, when I was officially designated the Lubbock (Texas) district SRTS coordinator. I think you can still find some documents with my name on them if you do a Google search. At that time, Safe Routes to Schools was a program being implemented at levels beneath the federal government, again, it wasn’t until 2005, with the most recent highway bill, that the US Congress decided that it was a good thing to be getting on with. SAFETEA-LU dedicated $612 million dollars over the course of the 5 years of the authorization package. It will have to be reauthorized in 2009 to receive more funding after the end of fiscal ’09.

Now that I’ve bored you to death with the funding congressional details, I should explain what the Safe Routes to Schools program actually is. Simply, Safe Routes to Schools is a dedicated funding stream for projects that improve the accessibility or safety of a school’s transportation environment. It provides money for projects like improving sidewalks and crossings, or roadway improvements near the school that would provide safer biking areas. The program can also provide money for educational programs and enforcement of existing laws.

The program has three goals, and these are taken directly from the FHWA website, which is linked in the show notes.

  1. to enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school
  2. to make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative, thereby encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age; and
  3. to facilitate the planning, development, and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution in the vicinity (approximately 2 miles) of primary and middle schools (Grades K-8).

As with all federally funded transportation programs (well, most), Safe Routes to Schools is administered on the state level. Each state is required to have a Safe Routes to Schools Coordinator who manages the program for that state. He or she is responsible for coordinating the program between all of the interested parties. These parties include (of course) the state Department of Transportation, the State Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, Local and Regional Safety groups, Non Profits, and state, regional, or local civil authorities. The safe routes to schools program is intended to be a local level or grassroots program where individual groups or local municipalities propose projects that are then evaluated by the Safe routes to Schools coordinator for approval, funding, and construction.

Alas! I am again boring people to tears with crazy bureaucratic detail. You, my listeners, are probably only interested in one thing. “How would I go about getting a project built in my own neighborhood?” As I quoted from the FHWA website, safe routes to schools projects are divided between Infrastructure projects and other. The Other includes Education, Enforcement, and Encouragement programs, but let’s concentrate on Infrastructure projects. Say you have a fabulous idea. If only a sidewalk were constructed between main street and south elm street, the number of children walking to school would double. You have the concept of the project in mind, I would suggest you go to your local municipal public works department and start there. You can arrive with a sketch on a map of what you have in mind, armed with the name of your state Safe Routes to School Coordinator, and hopefully things will start to roll from there. Sometimes, however, one person with an idea is easy for a large bureaucratic organization to ignore, so start being a pain in the butt at your local school board meetings. If you arrive at the Public Works Department with a project sketch *and* a memo from the school board, you’ll be much more likely to be listened to. Are there any bicycle or pedestrian advocacy groups in your area? They may be delighted to help out. The kicker on all of this is to get the idea approved by the powers that be (which will be different in every area) because then they will take the project and roll with it. They beauty of this program (for now at least) is that it is tax free money! Sort of. Well, the money has already been taxed from you, and now you get to retrieve it from that huge stack of cash they keep in Washington.

To divert back to boring discussions of funding, when a state uses federal matching dollars to build a project, they usually have to match it with some of their own money. A typical split is 80% federal, 20% state. Safe Routes to Schools is 100% federal, so if you can get a project funded in your area, you are drawing money back from the feds that they have already taken from you, and your state doesn’t have to kick in a dime. That’s a win-win!

The Safe Routes to Schools authorization in 2005 also called for the creation of a national SRTS clearinghouse. That clearinghouse is at www.saferoutesinfo.org, that’s three-dub, s a f e r o u t e s i n f o . o r g. There’s a link in the show notes. The clearinghouse contains everything I’ve just told you, and much much more. If you have any interest in advocating for your local school’s transportation infrastructure, wend your way through the internet to that destination and your questions will be answered.

Thanks for listening. Today you may have noticed that I was speaking more slowly. I’ve had some feedback that I might want to tone down the northeast fast talk and make it better understandable. I hope that it came through well this week.

This week’s episode is distributed under a creative commons 3.0 attribution, non commercial, no derivatives license, which means you can bring the podcast with you to a school board meeting, and give it to them, but please don’t change or sell it. The music them was Mercurial Girl by Five Star Fall off of Magnatune.com. If you have any questions or comments, you can always send an email to Bill @ Talking traffic.org or leave a comment on the show notes at www.talkingtraffic.org. Your feedback and comments are intensely appreciated. Have a great week!

Theme Music: Five Star Fall, Mercurial Girl, Magnatune.com
FHWA Safe Routes to Schools Website
National Safe Routes to Schools Clearinghouse

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3 Responses to Episode 13 – Safe Routes to Schools

  1. Annie says:

    I’ve had some feedback that I might want to tone down the northeast fast talk and make it better understandable. I hope that it came through well this week.

    Aw shucks! Of course, being the true Northerner I am, I usually read the text rather than listen to the podcast because it’s faster.

  2. Bill Ruhsam says:

    Keep in mind that I write the script for these podcasts before I do the recording, which means that sometimes the text doesn’t quite match the voice. I’ll do on the fly changes and then, out of laziness, not bother to change the text. Especially if it’s minor stylistic alterations. If it’s more substantive, I’ll go back in and edit the transcript.

  3. Annie says:

    Yeah, but at this point, the husband might get jealous if I spend more waking hours listening to your voice than his. :)

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