Introduction to Safe Routes to School: the Health, Safety and Transportation Nexus

Today more than ever, there is a need to provide options that allow all children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school safely. Many communities struggle with traffic congestion around schools and motor vehicle emissions polluting the environment. At the same time, children in general engage in less physical activity, which contributes to the prevalence of childhood obesity. At first glance, these problems may seem to be separate issues, but Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs can address all these challenges through a coordinated action plan.

This section provides an introduction to SRTS programs. It examines why few children are walking and bicycling to school, what caused this shift from a generation ago and the unintended consequences that may result. SRTS programs have a growing record of success as communities seek to increase the number of children walking and bicycling safely to school. This guide provides descriptions of many promising programs and community success stories.

SRTS programs use a variety of education, engineering and enforcement strategies that help make routes safer for children to walk and bicycle to school and encouragement strategies to entice more children to walk and bike. They have grown popular in recent years in response to problems created by a growing reliance on motor vehicles for student transportation, an expanding built environment, as well as the development and availability of federal and state funding for SRTS programs.

Jenkins Elementary, Scituate, MA.

Each school starts from a unique situation with different circumstances. Some schools have great places for walking and bicycling, but few students taking advantage of it. Other communities have children walking and bicycling to school in unsafe conditions or along poorly maintained routes. And some communities do not have children walking or bicycling to school at all. Successful SRTS programs involve the whole community. Parents, children, neighborhood groups, schools, law enforcement officers, community leaders and transportation and public health professionals help identify issues and solutions. Successful SRTS programs ultimately benefit all children, including children with physical and cognitive disabilities.

The implications of SRTS can be far-reaching. SRTS programs can improve safety for children and a community of pedestrians and bicyclists. They provide opportunities for people to become more physically active and to rely less on their cars. SRTS programs also benefit the environment and a community’s quality of life by reducing traffic congestion and motor vehicle emissions. 

For communities concerned about traffic jams, unsafe walking conditions, physically inactive lifestyles and overall quality of life, SRTS programs can be an effective starting point for tackling these issues. For more information, read the sections below.