Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is a national initiative to create safe, convenient, and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools with the goal of reversing the decline in children who walk or bike to school and the trends towards greater childhood obesity and inactivity. Safe Route to School refers to a program aimed at promoting walking and bicycling to school, and improving traffic safety around school areas through education, encouragement, enforcement, and engineering improvements.
Rochester has benefitted from this program in the past through funds awarded for targeted infrastructure projects, such as a traffic calming project on 40th St in front of Gage Elementary School and installation of speed feedback signs at various school sites. The program funds non- infrastructure activities as well, such as pedestrian and bicycle education and skills training, and materials needed for encouragement or promotion activities such as Walk to School Day, development of school walk maps, or Walking School Bus programs.
Safe Routes to School project is funded through the federal Safe Routes to School Program, which focuses on supporting communities to improve conditions for children to walk and bike to school. Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department was awarded SRTS planning grant to support a comprehensive assessment of issues and needs and development of a coordinated action for Rochester school district. The project to develop a Rochester SRTS Plan seeks the involvement of schools, parents and organizations at a grassroots level to improve conditions for children in grades K-8 who, along with their parents, choose to consider walking or biking for some or all of their daily trips to school. With increased competition for federal, state, community or foundation funding to support SRTS activities, it is important to have a road map or SRTS plan setting out goals and strategies that can be shared with potential funding partners.
Early in the planning process Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping was completed for all schools to identify gaps within walking boundary to and from school. School audits were also completed for various schools in Rochester area by various professionals, politicians and school authorities. A short survey was also conducted to help identify issues and needs related to children bike or walk to and from school within Rochester Schools District. More than 800 parents’ teachers and students participated in the survey to help us understand their perspective on Safe Routes to School issues. The survey results are used in developing various strategies and toolkits to provide an overview of tools and strategies for improving safety and accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians around elementary and middle schools in Rochester area.
Four E’s toolkit was developed to assist all elementary and middle schools as shown in the map. The purpose of toolkits was to provide an overview of tools and strategies for improving safety and accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians around schools that need immediate attention. The Rochester School Districts has expressed their interest in improving walking and bicycling conditions in and around school areas. The SRTS plan and toolkit is organized according to the Four E’s (Engineering, Education, Encouragement, and Enforcement), with Education and encouragement grouped together since many educational programs are intended to be fun and motivating, and many encouragement programs include an educational component. The fifth “E” – Evaluation – refers to the periodic review of projects and programs to measure their performance. In addition to the Four E’s, this toolkit also includes a section discussing operational tools that can improve safety for children walking and bicycling to school.
The federal Safe Routes to School Grant Program was adopted as part of SAFETEA-LU in 2005. Grant applications are solicited statewide and recipients are chosen by a statewide committee managed out of the Central Office of MNDOT. Safe Routes to School grants do not require local matching funds, unlike most federal transportation programs, which require a 15-20% match.