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Getting Started for Community Groups

Encourage kids to walk or bike to and from school because it’s fun!

Photo of a girl learning how to ride a bike.

Why Safe Routes?

Safe walking and biking routes don't just build healthy children...they build healthy communities. When neighbors are out walking and biking, the neighborhood comes to life. People get to know one another. There's less air and noise pollution from car traffic. All in all, it's a good thing!

Safe Routes Minnesota is a program of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Helping kids develop healthy habits now also helps kids remain active and healthy as adults. And that means a healthier community, lower health care costs, and a brighter future for all of us.

We offer funding to schools and municipal units to identify, build, and preserve safer routes so kids can walk and bike to school. Community and nonprofit groups work with local government to request funds to make improvements in their communities.

Get started

Building a Safe Routes to School program

The first thing you need to know about building a Safe Routes to School program is that Safe Routes Minnesota is here to help. We provide funding to schools to make improvements to the routes children use to walk and bike to school. These improvements may include physical infrastructure changes or non-infrastructure programs.

Infrastructure examples
  • Traffic-calming devices ("Your Speed" monitors, child alert signs)
  • Biking/Walking trails
  • New sidewalks
  • Additional crosswalks and traffic signals
Non-Infrastructure examples
  • Incentive programs that rewards kids for walking/biking
  • Educational materials to teach kids safety techniques
  • Materials to educate the public about driving safely around schools

The six steps to getting started with Safe Routes

Step 1: Bring the right people together

Community groups are not eligible to apply for funds on their own. But you can work with appropriate governmental agencies to apply for funds. In your community, that might be the department of roads, the city planning office, the local school board, or even the mayor. You may also want to involve principals or teachers at local schools. Start an inquiry to find out how your town handles opportunities like this. For more information on developing strategic partnerships, see the Community Partnership Handbook in our Marketing Toolkit.

Step 2: Read the application instructions

Learn the requirements for funding. Once you know if your school and your initial project ideas qualify, you're ready to move forward.

Step 3: Identify problems

Discuss with your key players any problems that may be creating barriers to walking and biking in the area. You'll want to address all these things as you build your program. Be sure to remember that the focus is to create safe routes to local schools. Your community will benefit from these changes as well.

Step 4: Develop a plan

Now that your committee has determined why your area is so walker/biker-unfriendly, it's time to develop strategies to address each issue. You're likely to find more than one reason children and adults aren't walking or biking. Make sure your plan addresses all the issues. All fund recipients must have a comprehensive plan for building, promoting and maintaining Safe Routes to School.

Step 5: Apply for funds

The governmental unit you're working with will use this plan as the basis for your funding application. Consult the application guidelines and begin moving through the funding process.

Step 6: Implement your program

Once you've been approved for funds, the committee you organized will start implementing your plan. This will include developing a plan of action for both infrastructure and non-infrastructure components of the project. It's likely that the governmental unit you've been working with will take things over from here.

Promote your Safe Routes project

  • Hold a kickoff event in your neighborhood, focusing on area families. The kickoff event could include presentations about the importance of regular activity; safety training for kids, parents, and drivers; pedometer giveaways; and the launch of a neighborhood walking contest.
  • Inform people about the improvements and events with homemade door-hanger cards. Then, improve your own health by walking door-to-door to hand them out!
  • Start a "Rack up the Miles" contest in your neighborhood. People can log the miles (or steps) that they bike and walk, and each month the winner receives a prize.
  • Be sure to announce the improvements and associated events at neighborhood association meetings and in the association's newsletter
  • Put up posters around the neighborhood to remind everyone about the importance of walking and biking regularly (especially for children)
  • Work with area parents to create walking school bus routes in the neighborhood surrounding your school so kids can walk or bike to school with adult supervision
  • Post signs near the school so drivers will know to expect children crossing
  • Have the local media cover your kickoff events and programs. Interviews with you and your neighbors can reinforce the importance of activity to the community
  • Establish relationships with local law-enforcement and include them as a friendly, visible part of the neighborhood safe-route identity