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Engineering

Children crossing a street in a crosswalk marked with a school crossing sign and a flashing yellow lightEngineering addresses the elements that make up the physical environment at and around a school. Safe and accessible crosswalks, sidewalks, trails, and bike lanes are essential for walking and biking to school. Engineering may also refer to operational improvements that reduce vehicle speeds and potential conflicts between travel modes.

Many communities were not designed to be safe and comfortable for people walking and bicycling. Walkability and bikeability audits can help identify areas around your school in need of improvements such as crosswalks, signals or bike facilities. Once problem areas are identified, communities work with local governments to identify funding sources for construction. One potential funding source are MnDOT Safe Routes to School grants.

MN Safe Routes to School Engineering Resources

Guiding Principles for Safe Routes to School Engineering Solutions

Children crossing a street in a crosswalkBecause the purpose of Safe Routes to School is “to enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk, roll and bicycle to school,” engineering solutions should be focused on calming traffic and providing continuous facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Other guiding principles for Safe Routes to School Engineering solutions from the National Center for Safe Routes to School include:

  • Infrastructure within the school zone and beyond is a prerequisite for walking and bicycling. The physical environment often determines whether many children walk or bicycle to school. To safely walk or bicycle to school along a street or separate path, or to cross a street along the way, children need well-designed, well-built, well-maintained and accessible facilities.
  • Accessibility is required. Accessible infrastructure is essential for enabling children with disabilities to walk and bicycle to school. Smooth, wide sidewalks with ADA-compliant curb ramps create safe routes for:
    • Wheelchair users
    • Pedestrians with vision impairments
    • Groups walking together
    • Younger bicyclists
    • Parents with strollers
  • Minimize the number of conflicts. A child's route to school should have a minimal number of busy street crossings and once the child reaches school property, he or she should be able to enter the school building without crossing driveways and parking lots.
  • Engineering treatments should be context-sensitive and matched to the type of problem. Signs alone are not generally enough to change behavior. Painting a crosswalk on a busy arterial street without additional interventions will not do much to improve the safety and comfort of pedestrians trying to cross. This also means that engineering solutions should be implemented along with programmatic elements to comprehensively address the issue.
  • Focus on easy to implement and low-cost solutions first, while longer-term improvement needs are identified and the implementation process is begun.
    • Examples of low-cost, short-term solutions include trimming vegetation, adding signage and new pavement markings.
    • Longer-term solutions may include parking changes, constructing a new path or sidewalk and installing traffic control devices.
Spotlight: Minnesota Success Story

Success story

Lincoln Elementary, Alexandria, MN

Sidewalk along a school The City of Alexandria completed infrastructure improvements around Lincoln Elementary, including sidewalk, street light and crosswalk improvements that are making it easier for students to walk to and from Lincoln Elementary and nearby parks. The project was identified in the school’s Safe Routes to School plan, which was completed the year the project was implemented. The Safe Routes to School program at Lincoln Elementary is a partnership between the schools, city and local public health. The project used $268,432 in federal funding.

Northeastern Minnesota

In 2009, the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission worked with the Fond du Lac Reservation and the Ojibwe School to develop a Safe Routes to School Travel Plan. In 2010, The Fond du Lac Reservation incorporated the travel plan into their comprehensive plan and secured funding for a multi-use path in 2013. According to Jason Hollinday, director of Planning at ARDC, the Safe Routes to School planning process was an important factor in being awarded the Transportation Enhancement funds to implement the trail project. Learn more about the Safe Routes to School plan for the Ojibwe School and the work between the ARDC and the Fond du Lac Reservation.

Brooklyn Center

In 2012, the city of Brooklyn Center received a grant to create a Safe Routes to School Plan. The plan established prioritized routes and engineering recommendations. The city incorporated some of the upgrades and improvements into plans for reconstruction projects. Public Works Director and City Engineer Steve Lillehaug since successfully used the plan to receive Transportation Alternatives Program funding from the Metropolitan Council.

Do you know of a local success story? Tell us about it by emailing saferoutes.dot@state.mn.us!