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School Siting

School siting and school site design

What are these and how are they different?

School siting is a process used to determine where a new school will be built.  Guidelines for school siting can vary, depending on state and local priorities.  School siting decisions offer an opportunity to advocate for SRTS and set the stage for increased walking and bicycling to school.

School site design often comes after the school siting decision, but offers another opportunity to create a walkable, bikeable school.  This separate process determines how the school building and grounds are laid out to accommodate travel to and from the school and support educational and co-curricular programs at the school.  School site design can also change during a school renovation or an expansion project or through a SRTS or community transportation project aimed at creating a multi-modal transportation network that provides safe connections. 

School buildings are like bridges – they cost a lot to build and are in place for a long time, so it’s important to get it right.

About 15 new or renovated school open each year in Minnesota (1).  This is a small percentage of the 2,012 schools operating in the current school year (2).  New school sites and construction use the current Minnesota Department of Education School Siting Guidelines

Do the guidelines work well from a SRTS perspective? A recent study by the Public Health Law Center recommended a few key changes to the Minnesota Department of Education’s School Siting Guidelines, including:

  • Improving location efficiency, i.e., conduct a walkability/bikeability assessment when considering a new school site or co-locate a school (page 7)
  • Inclusive decision-making, such as encouraging school districts to publicize their plans to support pedestrian, bicycle, and transit connections; maximize cooperative use and inter-governmental and non-profit collaborations; and consult with local or state transportation officials to address multimodal access and safety.  (page 8)

Travel to and from existing schools can be improved through SRTS efforts and community transportation planning. 

How can you start a discussion in your community about your school site?

First, learn the elements of good, safe access to school, regardless of mode. MnDOT offers several resources to help you learn and capture opportunities for improving access to school by walking or bicycling. 

Next, leverage existing work or plans. Many Minnesota communities have transportation plans that include pedestrian and bicycle networks (or they have separate plans for these).  These plans offer an opportunity to work with the local government to improve access to an existing school site, especially if there isn’t a renovation project on the horizon.

  • See if your school is already participating with SRTS by looking at the map of schools with SRTS programs at this link.  
  • Other transportation plans by community are on the Minnesota Health Department website at this link.  Plan types include: Pedestrian and Bike Plans, Transportation Plans, Parks and Trails Plan, Comprehensive Plans, and Active Living Plans.
  • Contact your local government planning office or review their website to see if there is a plan you can use to help make changes for travel to and from your school.  The title of these plan may include active living plans, bicycle master plans, pedestrian plans, or comprehensive plans that contain SRTS or active transportation.

Finally, think about how the making walking and bicycling to school can have a positive effect in other areas, such as equity, student health and classroom achievement, air quality, and overall community well-being. More information on these other benefits is available in the resources below.

Other Resources
Federal or national sources:

State or local sources:

Health Impact Assessments and Research:

2.) This number excludes the 32 state-approved distance learning programs. School numbers are from the MDE website at this link.

Area learning Centers

K-12 School

Elementary School (PK-6)

Middle Schools (5-8)

Secondary Schools (7-12)