Elements of Safe Routes to School Programs

Communities use many different approaches to make it safer for children to walk and bicycle to school and to increase the number of children doing so. Programs use a combination of education, encouragement, enforcement and engineering activities to help achieve their goals. Another important element is evaluation, which is incorporated into each of these areas and also will be discussed separately.

Because the needs of every community are unique, each community or individual school may choose to emphasize different components to make its program work. Some schools have built sidewalks or painted crosswalks to enhance safety, while others have started Frequent Walker Clubs to motivate children to be active. Regardless of the focus, safety is the first concern. The following information explains the basic elements of a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program.

Education

Education activities target parents, neighbors and other drivers in the community to remind them to yield to pedestrians, to drive safely and take other actions to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Parents serve as role models for their children and play an important part in teaching them pedestrian and bicycle safety. Education activities also teach students how to walk and bike safely and the benefits of doing so.

Encouragement

Dunham Elementary School, Tucson, AZ.

Encouragement strategies generate excitement about walking and bicycling safely to school. Children, parents, teachers, school administrators and others can all be involved in special events like International Walk to School Day and ongoing activities like walking school buses and bike trains. Encouragement strategies can often be started relatively easily with little cost and a focus on fun.

Enforcement

Enforcement activities can help to change unsafe behaviors of drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians. They can increase driver awareness of laws, and they also can improve driver behavior by reducing speeds and increasing yielding to pedestrians. In addition, enforcement activities teach pedestrians and bicyclists to walk and bike safely and to pay attention to their environment. Enforcement doesn’t just involve police. Many different community members take part in making sure everyone follows the rules, including students, parents, school personnel and adult school crossing guards. The role of the police officers often goes beyond enforcement and can be included in all strategies of the SRTS program.

Engineering

Engineering addresses the built environment with tools that can be used to create safe places to walk or bike and can also influence the way people behave. Transportation engineers, city planners and architects use methods to create safer settings for walking and bicycling while recognizing that a roadway needs to safely accommodate all modes of transportation. Such improvements can include maintenance and operational measures as well as construction projects with a range of costs. When such programs are properly implemented, they may not only improve safety for children, but they also may encourage more walking and bicycling by the general public.

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