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Study: Safe Routes to School Programs Boost Walking and Biking 30%

In just two generations, the share of American kids who walk or bike to school has plummeted — dropping from 50 percent in 1969 to 13 percent today. Can the trend be reversed? Yes, according to new research that shows the impact of street safety infrastructure and other programs implemented with federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) funds.

Photo: United Way

study published in this quarter’s Journal of the American Planning Association found that over time, SRTS programs produce significant increases in the share of children who walk or bike to school — an effect that grows more pronounced over time. The average increase in walking and biking rates attributable to SRTS programs over a five-year period was 31 percent, the researchers concluded.

The authors examined 801 schools in Florida, Oregon, Texas, and the District of Columbia, using data collected by the National Center for Safe Routes to School from 2007 to 2012 – yielding data from 378 schools with SRTS programs and 423 without. They say the study is the first SRTS research based on such a large geographic sample of schools, enabling them to isolate the effect of different types of Safe Routes to School strategies.

The effect of “education and encouragement” programs grew over time, with SRTS schools seeing progressively larger differences in each successive year. Over five years, the researchers found, this tactic led to a 25 percent increase in walking and biking to school, controlling for demographic differences, neighborhood characteristics, and other factors. Meanwhile, infrastructure investments like safer sidewalks or bike lanes led to a one-time 18 percent increase.

While Safe Routes to School programs work, they’re also in jeopardy. Federal funding for SRTS was cut in the last transportation bill, and that fight is expected to resume once Congress takes up the next one.

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SF Officials Tout School Zone Safety Upgrades on Walk and Roll to School Day

Mayor Lee squeezes down a SoMa sidewalk with students headed to Bessie Carmichael Elementary School yesterday. Photo: Richard Carranza/Twitter

On another record-breaking Walk and Roll to School Day, Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials held a press conference to tout recently-completed pedestrian safety measures on streets surrounding Bessie Carmichael Elementary in SoMa, and three schools in the Avenues. Almost 90 schools and 14,000 children citywide were estimated to have participated in the event — over 85 percent of SF Unified School District students.

“Today reminds us: children deserve to walk to school safely, not only on Walk and Roll to School Day, but every day,” Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider said in a statement.

Bessie Carmichael Elementary, located at Fourth and Harrison Streets next to a highway 80 on-ramp, is surrounded by some of the city’s most dangerous, freeway-like streets.

“This is not just any kind of traffic on the streets. This is freeway traffic,” said Fred Rutger, who said he’s been injured three times by hit-and-run drivers during his eight years as an SFMTA crossing guard for Bessie Carmichael Middle School, located at Harrison and Seventh Streets, three blocks away from the elementary school and next to a different set of freeway ramps. Each driver who hit him had made an illegal right turn from a far traffic lane, he said. There are no signs telling drivers headed to and from the freeway that they’re entering a school zone.

The SFMTA completed installation of 15 MPH school zones at 181 schools in 2012, but a Walk SF press release pointed out that “Bessie is one of a handful of schools in the city which do not qualify for slower 15 mph school zones, as state law precludes these slow zones on wide, fast streets where they’re needed most.”

Plans for a road diet on Sixth Street are in the works, and painted bulb-outs were recently added on street corners. The SFMTA also plans to add a signalized crosswalk at Sixth and Minna Streets this month, among other smaller improvements that don’t have a timeline yet.

Rutger said he’s been hit at Seventh and Folsom Streets, which he called one of the most hazardous intersections. The SFMTA recently re-timed traffic signals there to give pedestrians a head start, which could mitigate the danger somewhat, while students and parents wait for a more substantial transformation of the car-dominated intersection. Some pedestrian bulb-outs and daylighting are planned, but it’s unclear when they’ll come.

In a statement, Mayor Lee pushed Prop A, the $500 million general obligation bond to fund transportation improvements — which was originally supposed to be on the ballot alongside a vehicle license fee increase until Lee abandoned support for it.

“Walk and Roll to School Day grows every year, as more and more families choose to walk, bike or take Muni to school,” said Lee in a statement. “Whether they are in the Sunset District or in the heart of SoMa, we want every student to be safe when they are walking to school.”

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Governor Brown Vetoes CA Bill to Increase Fines in School Zones

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 1151, which would have raised fines for traffic violations in school zones. The legislation, authored by Senator Anthony Canella (R-Ceres), was co-sponsored by the Safe Routes to School National Coalition, transportation advocates TransForm, and the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program. The bill was designed to reduce traffic violations near schools, and money raised from the fine increases would have been earmarked for programs that encourage walking and biking.

CA Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased driver violation fines and dedicated the revenue to providing safer passage for students walking to school. Photo: Elizabeth Edwards, table5.net

Governor Brown, who is known to dislike bills that raise fines for revenue, called S.B. 1151 regressive in his veto message [PDF]:

Increasing traffic fines as the method to pay for transportation fund activities is a regressive increase that affects poor people disproportionately. Making safety improvements is obviously important, but not by increasing traffic fines.

“The governor’s framing is unfortunate,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership. “We see it differently, because the revenue would have funded infrastructure to address the underlying problem of lack of safety near schools. We thought it was a positive way to achieve results.”

The bill originally would have doubled fines in school zones, similar to temporary fine zones instituted to protect workers in construction zones. However, that would have required local jurisdictions to post signs around schools warning of the double fines, and legislators said they didn’t want to impose the cost of new signs on school districts and cities.

Under the compromise passed by the legislature, the bill would have raised the base fines for violations by $35. That would have raised the current range of fines from $238 to $366 to between $273 and $410.

“We are really disappointed, obviously,” said Ward-Waller. “Especially after the legislature supported it unanimously.”

“Children are overwhelmingly the victims of car collisions near schools, especially in low-income communities where there are no safe sidewalks or bike lanes,” Bianca Taylor of TransForm wrote in a blog post. ”As the cost of driving gets more expensive, we need to make sure that low-income neighborhoods have equal access to safe, affordable alternatives to cars, so that all children can safely get to school.”

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Eyes on the Street: Buffered Bike Lanes for Students on Ortega in the Sunset

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This school year, Ortega Street offers parents a safer street to walk and bike their kids on in the Outer Sunset, as seen here at 40th Ave. Photo: SFBC

The SFMTA has installed new bike lanes and traffic calming measures on Ortega Street in the Outer Sunset, bringing a safer commute for parents and students in time for the start of the school year. Ortega runs along Sunset Elementary School and AP Giannini Middle School, which occupy the four blocks between 37th and 41st Avenues.

The improvements, funded in part by a Safe Routes to School grant, include a bike lane with a buffer zone in the uphill direction on the stretch along the school, and a conventional bike lane in the downhill direction. Ortega also has new pedestrian islands, speed humps, continental crosswalks, daylighting, and sidewalk bulb-outs to calm car traffic and make it safer to cross the street. They were previously expected to be installed by the end of 2012, with the bike lanes in by summer of last year, and it’s unclear why the project was delayed.

The safety upgrades were championed by Nik Kaestner, the director of sustainability for the SF Unified School District, who bikes his kids to school on “a heavy Dutch cruiser,” he told the SF Bicycle Coalition.

Asked about the benefits of these projects, Kaestner pointed out that “walking school buses and bike trains also build community and allow students to arrive at school ready to learn… Ensuring that students have a variety of ways of getting to school means that students from disadvantaged areas have the means to get to the school of their choice.”

See more photos after the jump.

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Advocates Push for Bike/Ped Funding From CA’s Cap-and-Trade Funds

A coalition of bike and pedestrian advocates are inviting organizations to sign on to a letter [PDF] asking the state legislature to recommend allocating $50 million of the state’s cap-and-trade revenue towards the Active Transportation Program. Currently, none of the $850 million in cap-and-trade funds are allocated specifically for walking and bicycling in this year’s budget.

Bicycles produce zero greenhouse gas emissions but get zero funds from cap-and-trade. Photo by Brian W. Knight from Streetsblog’s “Kids + Cities Photo Contest, 2013″

Caltrans recently released its first ATP call for projects, and applications are due May 21. Eligible projects support walking and bicycling, and must compete for funding that will be awarded according to a formula in the ATP guidelines, recently adopted by the California Transportation Commission. Applications are expected to request and amount exceeding the program’s current funding levels of $120 million per year.

Revenue from cap-and-trade, the system chosen by California to meet the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32, must be spent on activities and projects that help meet its goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The governor’s proposed expenditure plan for cap-and-trade funds includes $100 million for the Strategic Growth Council for transit oriented development grants, which may include some bike and pedestrian infrastructure as part of larger projects. However, there is no cap-and-trade money specifically allocated to those modes.

The governor’s plan proposes an allocation of $250 million to high-speed rail, $200 million to the Air Resources Board for low-emission vehicle rebates, and $50 million to Caltrans to improve intercity rail, in addition to $250 million for other projects including energy efficiency, clean energy, and natural resource programs that will help reduce GHG emissions.

Building infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians, and educating and encouraging people to use these emission-free modes, can reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions in the short term. In their letter, advocates argue that bike/ped projects are crucial in meeting the state’s emission reduction goals, though they do not specify what budget line should be reduced to create the $50 million cap-and-trade allocation for active transportation.

“There is a lot of demand for the ATP program,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller, California Advocacy Organizer for the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, one of the organizations putting together a letter asking the legislature to consider the allocation from cap-and-trade funds. “There are projects that are ready to go, and ready to start reducing emissions in the short term.”

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Adorable Scenes From a Record-Breaking Walk and Roll to School Day

A record-breaking 13,000 students at 76 SF schools reportedly participated in International Walk and Roll to School Day yesterday, including over a hundred little ones who formed a “walking school bus” at E.R. Taylor Elementary, where city officials held a press event.

At E.R. Taylor, which holds walking buses every week as part of the Safe Routes to School program, 52 percent of students live within one mile of school and 38 percent walk, according to the Department of Public Health. Compare that with the citywide stats: 42 percent of SF elementary school students live within a mile of school, but only 26 percent walk.

Sandy Chow, E.R. Taylor parent, said walking with her son Liam allows them to “spend more time together, talking and connecting with each other. That helps prepare my son with the confidence to begin his day.”

"Chief Suhr asking the students which is better, cars going fast? Or, cars going slow... consensus -- cars going slow!" Photo via Walk SF on Facebook

Walk SF's new executive director, Nicole Schneider. Photo: William McLeod

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Draft CA Budget Ups Bike/Ped Funds, Leaves Safe Routes to School in Doubt

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The budget proposed yesterday by Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers includes a new “Active Transportation Program” that would increase overall funding for walking and biking improvements but may put California’s Safe Routes to Schools program at risk.

A family makes a car-free commute to school in Berkeley. Photo: EBBC/Flickr

Under the proposed ATP, currently separate funding streams would be consolidated into one larger program, increasing the overall pot of bike/ped funds from $100 million to $134 million. Details on how that money will be doled out have yet to be defined, however, and unless SRTS is guaranteed at least the same amount of funding it currently receives — $46 million — the SRTS Partnership won’t support the ATP, said Jeanie Ward-Waller, the organization’s California advocacy organizer.

“We’re very much in support of the concept” of the ATP, said Ward-Waller. “We just want to see more clear details spelled out, and more security before we can get on board with this program.”

SRTS funds could be protected with State Assembly bill AB 1194, which was passed by the Assembly in late May, and must still be approved by the Senate and Governor Jerry Brown. The Assembly already removed a provision that would have retained the current $46 million minimum in combined state and federal funds set aside for SRTS, but the bill could “protect it from consolidation in the ATP if the ATP does not guarantee funding to SRTS,” said Ward-Waller. She explained in a blog post:

In order for AB-1194 to come off suspense, the Appropriations Committee struck a line from the bill that would ensure $46 million (level funding from state and federal sources) be guaranteed for future years for Safe Routes to School. Instead, level funding for the program will have to be approved through the state budget process each year.  Though the amendment removing the $46M guarantee makes more work for advocates in future years, the bill still effectively simplifies and continues the structure of the program.

Governor Brown and the state legislature must approve a state budget by Saturday, June 15, and it would go into effect on July 1. But AB 1194 isn’t expected to pass the Senate and go to the Governor’s desk until September, and during that time, Ward-Waller said lawmakers decided to put ATP funds on hold while an agreement regarding their use is worked out.

Although advocates will have a challenge in ensuring the SRTS program isn’t shorted, California Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Dave Snyder said the ATP will be an overall positive step toward increase walking and biking funding in the state, as well as creating a more efficient and centralized program to move projects forward.

“We do support the ATP, and we want to see the consolidation of those programs as soon as possible,” he said, while adding a note of caution. “We do need to have a better idea of what the California Transportation Commission wants to do with those funds.”

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Bike to School Day Grows Into Bike to School Week

It’s Bike to School Week. That’s right — the burgeoning event is no longer confined to a single day.

Walter and son rode to Buena Vista Horace Mann school this morning. Photo: SFBC/Flickr

Over 2,500 kids and adults at 52 schools are expected to participate, up from 40 schools last year, according to the SF Bicycle Coalition, which coordinates the event. SFBC Communications Director Kristin Smith said organizers expanded the event to a full week to ”make it easier for more schools to participate.”

“With standardized testing and other school activities, some schools were not able to participate on the single day, so transforming Bike to School Day into Bike to School Week ensured we could get more kids, parents and teachers on bikes,” she said.

An SFBC news release [PDF] highlighted the recent successes at Grattan Elementary in Cole Valley, which has seen major increases in biking and walking, coupled with a reduction in driving, since the Safe Routes to School program began holding regular events like “Carbon Free Fridays” to encourage students and parents to change their transport habits:

Since 2010, when Grattan Elementary school started working with Safe Routes to School, the elementary school has decreased the number of single vehicles dropping off kids from 60% to 47% of all morning and afternoon trips. In just last year, they reduced the car trips by 8.5%. In the last year, Grattan has also seen a 4.5% increase in the number of students walking and biking to school, and 34% of their students participated in Bike to School Day. This decrease in car trips and increase in biking is helping San Francisco meet its official goal of 20% of trips by bike by 2020.

Last year’s Bike to School Day saw an estimated 2,000 participants, and that was on a rainy day, so the jump in kids cycling this year could be huge. Can we get a bike counter at every school to get an accurate measurement?

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Divided By a Highway, East Palo Alto Looks to Reconnect Its West Side

A highway overpass with a narrow sidewalk is the only connection for residents on the west side of East Palo Alto who need to walk or bike to access the east side. Photos: Bryan Goebel

This is the first in a series of stories on East Palo Alto’s proposed bicycle and pedestrian overcrossing.

It takes Maria del Socorro Macias about 40 minutes to walk from her neighborhood on the west side of East Palo Alto to her kids’ schools on the east side of Highway 101. To get there, she has to take a narrow sidewalk on the University Avenue overpass and walk through the city’s most congested intersection.

“It is very dangerous,” del Socorro Macias, 48, told Streetsblog through a Spanish interpreter. “There are numerous traffic lights to cross to get to the schools. It is especially dangerous walking at night, but I often do it because I attend school meetings and parent workshops.”

On foot and by bicycle, it’s a risky journey that countless East Palo Altans have been forced to take for decades, ever since the freeway sliced through their community. To visit friends, to get to church, to the library, or to Mi Pueblo – for now the city’s only grocery store — west side residents, many of whom have low incomes and don’t own cars, must contend with the freeway crossing and unforgiving street traffic.

“There’s a four-foot wide sidewalk that leads to the intersection with the highest traffic in the city,” said Brent Butler, the city’s planning manager. “It’s unsafe.”

A 2010 analysis noted that, among 97 California cities, East Palo Alto has the third-highest ratio of pedestrian collisions to the volume of driving.

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Bike Donation Program to Benefit East Palo Alto Elementary Students

Some East Palo Alto youngsters are escorted by a police officer as part of the FIT zone program, which encourages health and fitness activity in neighborhoods with high levels of crime and violence. Photo: EPAPD

Brent Butler was leading a bicycle rodeo in East Palo Alto for the city’s first Streets Alive event last year when he realized just how many children were there without bikes.

“What I decided to do is continue to teach the rules of the road even if we don’t have bicycles,” said Butler, the city’s planning manager and bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “We’re going to run the course and I’m going to demonstrate what you need to do with your arms. That was successful. The kids loved it.”

The 2011 event, timed with World Health Day and Cinco De Mayo, drew 1,000 kids from neighborhoods all over East Palo Alto. While there’s no shortage of children eager to ride, there is a lack of access to bicycles. Not a single bike shop exists in East Palo Alto, where 79 percent of families are low income.

“That’s a big obstacle because, you know, when you go to Palo Alto, the bike shops are expensive. For a low-income community, the prices can be prohibitive,” said Butler.

To help break some of the barriers to bicycle ownership in a youthful city where the average age is 28, the city has partnered with the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.  The first step is a bicycle donation program called the East Palo Alto Low Income Mobility Initiative that will benefit elementary school children who complete a bicycle education class.

“We really need to get the youth educated,” said Butler. “A lot of the studies indicate that if you bicycle in your youth, it’s often something that will stay with you.”

Low-income families in East Palo Alto face a higher frequency of health and crime problems than any other city in San Mateo County. The Ravenswood Family Health Center estimates more than 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese by the age of 5.

“One of the focuses of our effort is to indicate how important (bicycling) is for your health. Rewarding households that have zero cars is one of my dream projects,” said Butler, who gets around the city by bicycle. “I’m trying to encourage others to do what I do.”

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