Step 1. Plan the Program/Collect Information

Six Step Process for SRTS Program Evaluation 2. Write objectives 3. Decide what, how and when to measure 4. Conduct the program and monitor progress 5. Collect information and interpret findings 6. Use results

Planning for evaluation should start when the program is in its very beginning phase. For programs already underway, the components of this step may already be accomplished. This step includes the following actions (not necessarily in this order): 

  • Defining the program’s goal(s)
  • Collecting baseline data and understanding current walking and bicycling conditions
  • Picking activities

If these actions are done, move on to Step 2. If not, this section will explain why and how to accomplish these tasks.

1a. Defining the Program’s Goal(s)

Knowing what to evaluate requires that a local program knows what it wants to achieve in the long term. A goal is a broad statement of the program’s purpose. It may be the first decision made before launching a program. Sometimes baseline data and other information are collected first and those findings drive the goal.

Deciding on the program’s goal requires input from all stakeholders. A local program may have one or more goals. The goal(s) may be tailored to a community’s particular interests or needs or chosen from the stated purposes or desired outcomes of the Safe Routes to School National Program.

The purposes of the Safe Routes to School National Program stated in the Federal legislation are:

  • To enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school.
  • To make walking and bicycling to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative, thereby encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age.
  • 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 of schools.

The desired outcomes of the Safe Routes to School National Program are:       

  • Increased bicycle, pedestrian and traffic safety
  • More children walking and bicycling to and from schools
  • Decreased traffic congestion
  • Improved childhood health
  • Reduced childhood obesity
  • Encouragement of healthy and active lifestyles
  • Improved air quality
  • Improved community safety
  • Reduced fuel consumption
  • Increased community security
  • Enhanced community accessibility
  • Increased community involvement
  • Improvements to the physical environment that increase the ability to walk and bicycle to and from schools
  • Improved partnerships among schools, local municipalities, parents and other community groups, including non-profit organizations

1b. Understanding Local Walking and Bicycling Conditions

Anchorage, Alaska.

Before beginning a SRTS program, it helps to have an understanding of current circumstances that may influence walking and bicycling to school. These include both assets that make a community supportive of children walking and bicycling, as well as barriers that make it difficult or unsafe. The information helps generate ideas about how to run the program in order to capitalize on assets and overcome barriers. For example, assets revealed through this process may be financial support or resources, such as volunteers to help run the activities or a local media outlet or business that wants to champion the cause.

Collecting data about the current situation is equally important and serves as baseline data that can be used for interpretation of changes after SRTS activities have been conducted. For example, the walkability of a particular route or parental attitudes toward walking and bicycling may be assessed before a program begins. These same measures should be repeated after the program has been implemented to see if a change occurred.

There are pieces of information to collect that will paint the picture of local conditions, including: 

School information
School information includes particular characteristics about a school and its circumstances that influence walking and bicycling by students. Examples include policies, school district boundaries or staggered dismissal times.
Walking and bicycling numbers
This information includes the number of students walking and bicycling to school and the number that live close enough that walking and bicycling would be an option if all other conditions, like safety or convenience, were met.
Safety issues
Safety issues may include traffic, personal safety and lack of facilities, such as sidewalks, bike paths, crosswalks, or bicycle racks.
Attitudes about walking and bicycling
Parents, children and school staff all have attitudes about walking and bicycling that influence their behavior. For example, if parents believe that children are more attentive at school if they walk, then this may motivate them to walk to school with their child.
Other assets
There can be financial support or resources, such as volunteers to help run the activities or a local media outlet that wants to champion the cause. Assets to consider include:
  • Sources for grant money
  • Sources for volunteer support
  • Local government resources (particularly needed for built environment changes, such as sidewalks)
  • Local business support
  • Media interest

Tools to Use for Collecting Information:

  • The student travel tally will reveal current walking and bicycling counts.
  • The parent survey will uncover attitudes about walking and bicycling and provide insight into what kinds of actions might increase the number of children walking and bicycling.
  • The walking and bicycling route assessment is an important ways to identify safety and other problems on travel routes.
  • An interview with the school principal or someone else who knows about children’s travel to and from school. Information to considering gathering includes:
    • The number of children who live within walking or bicycling distance
    • How the school district defines walking and bicycling distance
    • School personnel who might be interested in participating in a SRTS program
    • Rules or policies that impact travel to school

Other Ways to Learn About Current Conditions

There are many other worthwhile ways to gather information about current conditions, including:

  • Survey the community regarding their views on walking and bicycling to school.
  • Interview different groups, including:
    • Stakeholders: Ask what they see as the strengths and weaknesses in the community with regard to SRTS.
    • Students: Ask what might persuade them to walk or bicycle to school.
    • School Resource Officer or other local law enforcement officers:  Ask them to identify potentially unsafe intersections or driver and pedestrian behaviors.
    • School board members: Ask for their suggestions regarding strategies.
    • School nurse: Ask about health and safety benefits and concerns related to walking or bicycling to school.
  • Crash reports from the local police department
  • Student attitude surveys
  • Discussions with groups of parents or parent interviews

Example School

In this example, the school knew their first goal was to increase safe conditions for walking and bicycling to school. The information collected about local conditions and issues helped them set their other goal to reduce traffic congestion.

Safe Routes to School Program Evaluation Plan

School: High Hopes Elementary School

1. Program Planning Information

1a. Program goal(s):
  • Increase safe walking and bicycling to school
  • Reduce traffic congestion around school
1b. Local conditions and issues (formative assessment):
(1) School information:
  • Half of school enrollment lives within a mile of school
  • School has no policies against walking or bicycling
(2) Walking and bicycling numbers:

10 percent of children walk or bicycle to school

(3) Safety issues:
  • Principal stated that one child was hit by a car last year in the crosswalk.
  • Police stated that speeding was a problem; using radar gun to determine speeds, they determined that the average driver is going 35 mph instead of 25 mph through school zone during morning arrival.
  • Observation of school campus during morning arrival showed traffic congestion around drop-off area to be a problem for walkers and bicyclists.
  • Walk audit of routes to school showed good conditions for walking.
(4) Attitudes affecting walking and bicycling:
  • Parent survey rated safety as main concern
  • Discussions with parents showed interest in their children being able to walk to school if adult supervision provided
(5) Other assets that can benefit the program:
  • Opportunity to receive grant to fund program
  • Parents willing to provide volunteer help
  • Strategies to increase walking and bicycling to school should include adult supervision.
  • Efforts are needed to reduce speeds around the school.
  • Drop-off and pick-up area is a problem.

1c. Activities or Strategies

The program reaches its goals through activities or strategies. Examples of activities include initiating walking school buses, fixing broken sidewalks and focused speeding enforcement in school zones. There are many strategies that may be included in a SRTS program and more than one strategy may be needed to achieve any one goal. For example, to reach the goal of increased knowledge, educational strategies may be initiated. To achieve the more complex goal of the changing behaviors of drivers, pedestrians or bicyclists, education, encouragement, enforcement and engineering strategies together may be needed. The following are examples of some of the possible program activities divided into categories often used by SRTS programs: education, encouragement, engineering and enforcement.

Education Activities:

  • Safety games or safety trainings
  • Materials for parents to teach safety to children
  • Classroom programs
  • Materials for drivers near schools or drivers’ safety training

Encouragement Activities:

  • Walking school buses
  • Walk and Wheel Wednesdays
  • Incentive programs
  • Mileage clubs
  • Walk to School Day

Engineering Activities:

  • Sidewalks or paths
  • Signs or signals
  • Rerouting of pick-up and drop-off areas away from walkers

Enforcement Activities:

  • Crossing guards
  • Campaign to reduce speeds around schools
  • Neighborhood Hotline

Example School

This school decided to take a comprehensive approach and identified more than one strategy for each of education, encouragement, engineering and enforcement.

Safe Routes to School Program Evaluation Plan

School: High Hopes Elementary School

1. Program Planning Information

1c. Program Activities
Education Strategy:

Provide basic bicycle and pedestrian safety classroom lessons to school children, reinforced by take-home safety sheets for parents as well as a map of existing safe walking and biking routes.

Encouragement Strategy:

Start a Walk and Wheel Wednesday program that includes organized walking school buses and an incentive program.

Engineering Strategy:

Reroute parent drop-off area away from walkers and bicyclists, including improving the pedestrian crosswalk to school site.

Enforcement Strategy:

Develop a Parent Driver Safety Campaign that includes a school zone speed enforcement program and a clear enforcement message.