Safe Routes to School is a federal, state and local effort to enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school and to make walking and bicycling to school safe and appealing. Safe Routes to School programs include education and promotional activities and engineering improvements to create a safer walking and biking environment.
Communities around schools suffer from traffic congestion and the issues that come with it. Neighborhood environments suffer from toxins released by cars polluting the air we breathe. Children are becoming less active and more likely to be overweight.
Safe Routes to School positively affects neighborhood and school communities through a simple solution: helping children walk and bike to school via safe routes. When this happens, neighborhoods, schools, families and communities benefit in many ways.
Studies show that children who are physically active experience many benefits. Walking or biking to school is a great way for your child to get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Getting activity through walking and bicycling helps reduce behavior problems and helps kids settle in for learning during the school day. Kids who walk or bike to school are more alert and focused and are in a better mood when school starts. Kids who are physically active also have high confidence and fewer health problems such as childhood obesity. Commuting with neighborhood friends may also serve as a fun, adventurous way to get to school!
The Minnesota Safe Routes to School Resource Center is a valuable website for all Safe Routes to School partners. The center provides Safe Routes to School tools, technical resources, and information needed for all partners – including parents, teachers, students, schools, school districts, communities and others. The Resource Center contains information about the MnSRTS program, resources and tools for planning a Safe Routes to School program, success stories, information about the 6 Es of Safe Routes to School, current programs in Minnesota, and other news and events related to MnSRTS. Learn more here.
Safe Routes to School improvements may include physical infrastructure changes and non-infrastructure programs.
There is no state or federal law setting a legal age minimum before children can walk to school alone. You may want to contact the school district where your child attends or local police department to determine if they have a policy that prohibits children under a certain age from walking to school alone.
Children vary in their readiness to handle traffic situations, such as choosing a safe time to cross a street, even if they are in the same grade. Ideally, parents are a central figure in their children's safety education. Parents have the best opportunities to effectively assess their individual child's skills and teach safe behavior. Deciding when children are ready to walk to school is less a matter of age, and more about when children have demonstrated they can safely walk and cross streets independently. For additional information about when children are ready to walk alone, see this resource developed by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, Teaching Children to Walk Safely as They Grow and Develop.
Walk to School Day is an annual event held each October where students are joined by parents, school personnel, and other community members to walk and bike to school on the day of the event. Walk to School Day began as a one-day event in 1997 and has evolved into an annual celebration as part of a movement for Safe Routes to School. Today, thousands of schools from across the United States participate, including from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Walk to School day is held in early October of each year.
A walking school bus is a group of children who walk to school on designated routes with adult supervision, while picking up kids along the route, just like a school bus. For some neighborhoods, it's a casual group walk, while others set up a formal plan with adults scheduled to walk on certain days.
The 6 Es are strategies of a comprehensive Safe Routes to School Program, which include: engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement, evaluation, and equity. The most effective Safe Routes to School programs include elements of all of the 6 Es . For more information on the 6 Es, click here.
There are many opportunities for involvement with Safe Routes to School! First, contact your local school or school district to learn more information and determine if they have a Safe Routes to School program or plan. If they do not, help form a team of partners and community members to create a program! The resource center has many different tools to get you started. Other opportunities include volunteering to lead a walking school bus or assist with a local Safe Routes to School event such as a bike rodeo (PDF).
Minnesota Safe Routes to School provides funding and resources to community and school groups to support students walking and biking to school.
Safe Routes to School is a federal, state and local effort to improve the health and well-being of children by enabling and encouraging children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school; make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation option, thereby encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age; and to facilitate the planning, development and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution in the vicinity of schools.
At its core, Safe Routes to School is a planning process: it's a process where local stakeholders work together to identify barriers to safe walking and bicycling to school and develop a plan to address those barriers using a combination of non-infrastructure programs and infrastructure treatments.
The National Safe Routes to School Program was established in August of 2005 as part of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users Act (SAFETEA-LU). Safe Routes to School funding is provided in section 1404 of this legislation, and is a Federal-Aid program of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. In 2012, a new federal bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) replaced SAFETEA-LU and rolled the Safe Routes to School program into a new grant program called Transportation Alternatives Program. More info can be found on the MnDOT Safe Routes to School website.
Under SAFETEA-LU, MnDOT was allocated nearly $18.6 million in federal funding for grants and statewide programs from 2006-2012. In funding years 2015-2017 MnDOT leadership also set aside federal funding for Safe Routes to School under the new federal transportation bill MAP-21, which was used for a 2015-2016 infrastructure solicitation. More information on funding is available here.
In 2013, the state legislature allocated $250,000 per year for Safe Routes to School non-infrastructure programs. In 2014, the state legislature made a one-time $1 million investment to the Safe Routes to School infrastructure grant program and increased the non-infrastructure funds to $500,000 per year.
The Statewide Health Improvement Program also provides local public health departments funding that can be used to support local Safe Routes to School initiatives. More information on funding is available here.
A Safe Routes to School plan should describe the process by which students are encouraged and educated on the benefits of safely walking and biking to school. It should present the provisions for enforcing traffic laws in the vicinity of schools for the safety of children. It should define or prioritize the engineering requirements for infrastructure and include an evaluation of all these processes for results.
Each participating school forms a local team consisting of school administrators, municipal officials, teachers, parents, student leaders, law enforcement officers and other interested community members. They work together to assess attitudes and behaviors of parents and students, analyze the physical environment leading to the school and research related policies. The teams then make recommendations and create an action plan.
The benefits of Safe Routes to School programs are numerous. When routes are safe, walking or biking to and from school is an easy way for children to get the regular physical activity they need for good health. Studies have shown that physically active kids have improved mood and concentration, a stronger self-image and more self-confidence. Physically active kids also have fewer chronic health problems and report lower levels of smoking and alcohol consumption. It’s also fun! Research shows that walking or riding is children’s preferred method of getting to school. By walking with friends, children will build relationships and learn more about their neighborhood, their friends and themselves.
Anyone with a passion for children's health and safety should be involved with a Safe Routes to School program. School teams can include school administrators, teachers, parents, students, law enforcement officers, representatives from the local road authority, school district transportation directors, trail and bike group representatives, parks and recreation specialists, neighborhood association members and many more!
The MnSRTS Resource Center was developed to provide the tools and resources that you need to begin developing a Safe Routes to School plan. In the resource index, you will find a variety of helpful tools to get you started on your own local Safe Routes to School plan or program.
For more information on grants and funding opportunities, please visit the Minnesota Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School Grants webpage.
A complete list of historical grant awards and recipients since 2006 are available at the Minnesota Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School Grants webpage. You can also explore the Visualizing SRTS in Minnesota web mapping tool.
The 6 Es are strategies of a comprehensive Safe Routes to School Program, which include: engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement, equity, and evaluation. The most effective Safe Routes to School programs include elements of all of the 6 Es . For complete definitions of the 6 Es, please see the glossary page.
Non-infrastructure activities include public awareness and outreach campaigns, traffic and enforcement education, law enforcement near schools, training for local Safe Routes to School activities, and monitoring and documenting outcomes and trends.
Infrastructure-related activities are those projects that will substantially improve the ability of students to walk and bicycle to school, including sidewalk improvements, traffic calming and speed reduction improvements, pedestrian and bicycle crossing improvements, on-street bicycle facilities, off-street bicycle and pedestrian facilities, secure bike parking, and traffic diversion near schools.
The Minnesota Walk! Bike! Fun! Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Curriculum is a two-part curriculum designed specifically for Minnesota’s schools and is structured to meet Minnesota education standards. It helps children ages five to thirteen learn traffic rules and regulations, the potential hazards to traveling; and handling skills needed to bike and walk effectively, appropriately, and safely through their community.