Establish a "Safe Routes to School" program
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of schoolchildren who walked or bicycled to school declined nationally from 48 percent in 1969 to just 16 percent in 2001. The decline in walking and bicycling contributes to traffic congestion and poor air quality around schools. A growing body of evidence shows that children who lead sedentary lifestyles are at risk for a variety of health problems, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Enabling children to safely walk and bike to school promotes a more active lifestyle, contributes to lower childhood obesity rates, and can reduce transportation costs for both households and the public sector.
The Department of Health should work together with the state transportation and education departments to develop a "Safe Routes to School" program. Safe Routes to School programs provide funding to help states and communities assess bike and pedestrian conditions around local schools, and then to facilitate the infrastructure and program changes needed to make it possible for children to safely walk and bike to school.
Sprawling land-use patterns can make it difficult to implement Safe Routes to School in many communities (see Policy #3, Revise School Construction Funding Formulas in the Department of Education section). In 2008, however, 29 states did already have Safe Routes programs.
Most Safe Routes to School programs are funded through a combination of federal, state and local sources. Funding is typically necessary for the assessment, planning and construction of infrastructure along the route, as well as for programming, including awareness-raising events and pilot walks.
Government funding, mostly through TEA-21 and SAFETEA-LU transportation appropriations, can help pay for the infrastructure. Some governmental funds can be used to cover the programmatic costs as well. State health agencies are skilled and experienced in health promotion and education and can be a valuable partner to education and transportation agencies.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, funding levels for Safe Routes to School Programs began at $54 million in FY 2005 and could increase to $183 million in FY 2009. Each state is eligible to receive a minimum of $1 million. To receive federal funding, states are required to have a Safe Routes to School coordinator to manage the state's program.
- Colorado’s Safe Routes to School Program
The Colorado Department of Transportation administers the state's Safe Routes to School program. Federal funds are awarded through a statewide competitive process. Awarded funds are then distributed according to the geographic distribution of the K-8 student population. Between 10 and 30 percent of the funds ($1.6 million in 2008) are spent on programming. The remaining funds support infrastructure projects as well as a full-time Safe Routes Coordinator at the Colorado Department of Transportation.
— Colorado’s Safe Routes to School Program