In 2015, President Obama signed a transportation funding bill called the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act), which allocates money for a variety of surface transportation projects through 2020. As part of the FAST Act, Safe Routes to School projects are eligible for funding through the Transportation Alternatives Program. Safe Routes to School projects will continue to compete for funding with other eligible projects. One notable change in the FAST Act is that nonprofit organizations are now eligible to compete for funding.
Federal funds from the FAST Act are administered in Minnesota by eight regional organizations called Area Transportation Partnerships. Each of the eight ATPs holds a regional solicitation for federal funds, where communities can apply for funding.
In addition to the TAP funding program, the Minnesota Department of Transportation offers a separate funding program for Safe Routes to School projects.
MnDOT awards these Safe Routes to School grants to communities to construct infrastructure to improve access and safety around schools. Past grants included sidewalks to schools, trails along state highways, and improved crossings on school walking routes. A Safe Routes to School plan is required to apply.
While not specifically targeted to Safe Routes to School, there are trail grant programs that can be used to support Safe Routes to School infrastructure improvements. One example is the Recreational Trails Program, which provides funds to states to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related facilities for both nonmotorized and motorized recreational trail uses.
If a city, county, or MnDOT has a roadway project planned near a school, there may be an opportunity to integrate a Safe Routes to School improvement into the project.
City and County Capital Improvement Programs list upcoming projects and are often posted on individual city or county websites. You may also check with your city or county transportation staff about their schedule for repaving roads, which can also offer an opportunity to make minor improvements near schools.
Schools with Safe Routes to School plans generally fare better when seeking funding for infrastructure improvements and non-infrastructure programs because it demonstates to the funder that the community has undergone a process to identify the investment as a top priority. The MnDOT Safe Routes to School Planning Assistance Grant program provides resources to schools and communities to develop comprehensive Safe Routes to School plans. Since 2006, MnDOT has funded more than 300 school plans that provide a roadmap for communities looking to make it safer and easier for students to walk and bike to school.
Schools and communities can apply for small grants to start or expand Safe Routes to School school programs (crossing guards, bike trains, Walk to School Day) or they can apply for bicycle fleets and supplies to teach Walk! Bike! Fun! MnDOT has offered these grants in the past and will likely offer them again in the future. Stay tuned to the Safe Routes to School email list for announcements.
The Walk! Bike! Fun! Curriculum helps children ages five to thirteen learn about traffic safety, understand the rules of the road, and improve their bike handling skills. It achieves both education and encouragement for bicycling and walking.
In 2013, MnDOT contracted with Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (BikeMN) to develop a Minnesota-specific safety curriculum for youth that meets state standards. BikeMN trains teachers and school-related staff to teach Walk! Bike! Fun! and also provides technical assistance to schools and communities. As of 2019, newly added components of the curriculum will help educators use this curriculum in classrooms with students who need help or assistance walking and biking.
To apply for technical assistance, visit BikeMN at bikemn.org/education/walk-bike-fun
Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) grants support community-driven solutions to expand opportunities for active living, healthy eating and commercial tobacco-free living. SHIP grants are awarded to community health boards, which are made up of one or more counties and cities. SHIP grants are managed by a local SHIP Coordinator, who helps plan and implement strategies to support the health of Minnesotans. Programs that support active travel to school may be eligible for support.
Interested in accessing SHIP funds or receiving support from SHIP coordinators? Email Health.OSHII@state.mn.us
Many Safe Routes to School programs are supported by grants or volunteer hours from local organizations. Libraries often have access to grant and funding databases, which list charitable foundations and corporate giving programs in the U.S. Databases generally include grant descriptions, trustees, officers, and donors.
Other examples across Minnesota include grants for bike rodeos from local businesses, support for programs through Lions Clubs gambling revenues, Kiwanis, Rotary, Jaycees and health organizations providing staff support or funding for programs.
Nonprofits with a similar mission may be able to direct time, money, and/or other resources to a school or community for Safe Routes to School. Examples include Age to Age through Northland Foundation, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, MN Power Foundation (and other power companies with foundations), and People for Bikes Community Grants.
Some health insurers (not foundations) have grant dollars available, for example, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Minnesota Center for Prevention grants.
Sponsorship from a business is another funding option and is generally most useful for Safe Routes to School program initiatives. For example, Dairy Queen often provides coupons to local police to reward kids for wearing a helmet. Local businesses may be willing to donate incentive items for Walk to School Day or Bike to School Day.
Colleges and universities may be able to provide funding or other support to school groups. For example, the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (RSDP) brings together local talent and resources with University of Minnesota knowledge and seed funding to drive sustainability in various areas.
The American Heart Association led a pioneering research project to create the first, comprehensive (although not exhaustive) statewide map of funded and unfunded pedestrian and bicycle projects in Minnesota, including Safe Routes to School projects.
Find a detailed map of projects by region:
The Perham Community Center is located across the street from the local elementary and middle schools and more than 80 kids cross the street everyday to access the Community Center. The street is 50-feet wide and has a lot of car traffic each day. The street crossing previously consisted of a standard striped crosswalk and two old traffic signal poles that flashed yellow continuously.
During an observation of school arrival, local officials witnessed numerous near-accidents with kids running out in front of oncoming traffic. Drivers could not see people in the crosswalk because vehicles regularly parked on either side of the crosswalk with no setback, limiting sightlines for everyone. As part of the Safe Routes to School planning efforts in Perham, they recommended several improvements to the street crossing, including immediately restricting parking near the crossing to improve visibility.
Following the Safe Routes to School planning process, the street crossing was incrementally improved. First, a temporary painted bump-out and a new set of flashing pedestrian beacons were installed. Later, a permanent bump-out was installed which reduced the crossing distance and significantly improved visibility. Two different funding sources were used to complete the project. The temporary improvements were funded by PartnerSHIP 4 Health, and the permanent improvements were funded via federal Safe Routes to School/TAP funding.