Not so long ago, walking and biking to school was as common as today’s more familiar ritual of parents dropping and picking up children from schools all across the U.S. In 1969, nearly 50 percent of all students walked or bicycled to school. Today, however, the story is very different. Fewer than 15 percent of trips to and from schools are made by walking or bicycling, compared to 25 percent on school buses, and over 50 percent made in private automobiles.
The decline in walking and bicycling has had an adverse effect on traffic congestion and air quality around schools as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety. In addition, a growing body of evidence has shown that children who lead sedentary lifestyles are at risk for a variety of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Safety issues are a big concern for parents, who consistently cite traffic danger as a reason why their children are unable to bicycle or walk to school.
The purpose of the Federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program is to address these issues head on. The Program empowers communities to make walking and bicycling to school a safe and routine activity once again. The Program makes funding available for a wide variety of programs and projects, from building safer street crossings to establishing programs that encourage children and their parents to safely walk and bicycle to school.
Origin of the program
The Safe Routes to School Program is a 100% federally funded reimbursement program established by the August 2005 SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users Act) Transportation Bill. The legislation provides funding (for the first time) for State Departments of Transportation to create and administer SRTS programs which allows communities to compete for funding for local safety projects and educational initiatives. SRTS is funded at $612 million and provides Federal-aid highway funds to State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) over five Federal fiscal years (FY2005-2009), each State’s share is based in accordance with a formula specified in the legislation. These funds are available for infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects, and for the administration of the State Safe Routes to School programs that benefit elementary and middle school children in grades K-8.
The intent of the program is:
The Federal-aid SRTS Program is administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Safety.
The SAFETEA-LU legislation provides funding for the SRTS Program over five Federal fiscal years (FY2005-2009), in accordance with a formula specified in the legislation, no State shall receive an appointment under $1,000,000 per year. The State of Oklahoma anticipates receiving an allotment of approximately $1,000,000 annually.
Funding for approved projects and activities will be on a 100% cost reimbursement basis. Sponsored agencies will be required to enter into a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Agency will agree to let the projects/activities, and pay the contractors as work is performed. The agency will then submit and invoice along with appropriate supporting documents for reimbursement. All cost overruns or unapproved activities will be the responsibility of Project Sponsor.
As with any grant programs, applications always exceed available funding resources. When this occurs, worthy projects may not be able to receive funding due to the limited resources. Participants in the SRTS program are encouraged to creatively leverage available funds through partnerships in an effort to maximize available resources.
There are many additional federal, state and local funding sources available to complement the Federal Safe Routes to School resources. Supplemental funding resources that could be used include but are not limited to health, recreation, transportation, physical education, law enforcement, and safety funds. Flexible transportation resources including the Transportation Enhancements Program, the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, Equity Bonus Funds, the new state Highway Safety Improvement Program, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 402 Traffic Safety funds are available and eligible to be used for certain Safe Routes to School projects.
Eligible SRTS Activities
The SRTS legislation identifies eligible funding recipients as State, local, and regional agencies, including nonprofit organizations that demonstrate an ability to meet the requirements of the program.
The program makes allowance for two funding categories: Infrastructure, and Non-infrastructure. The categories are defined as follows:
For infrastructure projects, funds must be spent on projects within the public right of way. This may include projects on private land that have public access easements. Public property includes lands that are owned by a public entity, including those lands owned by public school districts. Construction and capital improvement projects also must be located within approximately two miles of a primary or middle school (grades K-8). Schools with grades that extend higher than grade 8, but which include grades that fall within the eligible range, are eligible to receive infrastructure improvements.
Projects on private land must have a written legal easement or other written legally binding agreement that ensures public access to the project. There must be an easement filed of record, which specifies the minimum length of time for the agreement to maximize the public investment in the project. The project agreement should clearly state in writing:
The project must remain open for general public access for the use for which the funds were intended for the timeframe specified in the easement or lease. The public access should be comparable to the nature and magnitude of the investment of public funds.
Reversionary clauses may be appropriate in some instances. These clauses would assure that if the property is no longer needed for the purpose for which it was acquired, it would revert to the original owner.
Traffic education and enforcement activities must take place within approximately two miles of a primary or middle school (grades K-8). Other eligible activities under the non-infrastructure portion of the SRTS Program do not have a location restriction. Education and encouragement activities are allowed at private schools as long as other non-infrastructure program criteria are fulfilled.
Comprehensive approach for a successful project
Research suggests that an effective way to increase walking and bicycling in a community is through a comprehensive approach incorporating (directly or indirectly) five components referred to as the “5 E’s”. The 5 E’s are: