Safe Routes to School Plans are a way to engage community members, develop support and set priorities for increasing walking and bicycling to school. The process also prepares the community to apply for funding, which is usually needed to implement the recommendations of the plan. Safe Routes to School Plans involve evaluating existing walking and bicycling conditions and developing an action plan to address barriers and encourage more students to use active travel to school. Some plans focus on one school, while others focus on a school district.
The planning process begins by convening a team to gather basic information about the environment around the school through walking audits and information on travel patterns through parent surveys and travel tallies. Another key piece of the planning process is outreach to stakeholders, both within and outside of the school. These stakeholders may include parents, students, teachers and district staff as well as planners, engineers and law enforcement.
The input from these stakeholders will help inform the content of the plan, and answer these questions: What are the challenges students face that inhibit walking and biking to school? How can these challenges be addressed? Each plan should be comprehensive, addressing all of the 6Es and include short and long term goals. Adding implementation timeframes for infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects will make it easier to evaluate progress and keep initiatives moving forward.
There is no wrong way to write a Safe Routes to School plan, but typically a plan will include the following information:
For a Safe Routes to School Plan to be effective, it must be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Plans should be reviewed on an annual basis, and major updates to the plan should take place on a 3-5 year basis. The person or team responsible for reviewing the plan should be identified in the implementation section. Also, as the plan is being written, think about metrics that can be used to evaluate its success, such as the number of walking or biking encouragement events held during the school year or the number of students that receive bicycle education in physical education classes. As plans are implemented, the goals and strategies in the plan should begin to be achieved, and new goals and strategies should be identified during the process of updating the plan.
The resources below provide more in depth information about each step in the planning process.
Forming a Safe Routes to School team is a great way to get started with Safe Routes to School programs or planning. This tipsheet provides ways to get started.
A range of partners can help grow and sustain your program. The document Engaging Stakeholders in the Safe Routes to School Planning Process provides information to help local Safe Routes teams engage community members in a program or planning process.
A walk audit is a field visit to a school and the surrounding neighborhood to observe travel behavior and examine how drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists interact with each other and the built environment. The purpose of walk audits is to document existing behavior and infrastructure and to identify safety conditions that need improvement. The walk audit tipsheet has info for getting started.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has developed a tool called the Neighborhood Assessment, which helps communities evaluate and summarize the current conditions that impact youth’s ability to walk and bicycle to school safely. Neighborhood Assessments are required for all Safe Routes to School projects funded by MnDOT and are strongly encouraged for all communities working on Safe Routes initiatives. To use the assessment tool, review and complete the Safe Routes to School Neighborhood Assessment Guide (PDF, 2.88 MB) and then complete the Assessment Tool online survey to record and submit answers. Data from the assessments will be stored and tracked by MnDOT to develop a better understanding of statewide conditions that affect walking and bicycling to school.The Neighborhood Assessment is required for all SRTS Plans funded by MnDOT.
The following Minnesota stories highlight Safe Routes to School planning work and the outcomes of those processes.
In 2009, a Safe Routes to School Committee was established in Grand Marais and worked to create its first Safe Routes to School plan over the next year. The plan was created with participation from various agencies and community members in Cook County. Improved pedestrian safety measures along the Highway 61 corridor was identified as a top priority in the plan. In 2013, a Blue Cross Blue Shield of MN Center for Prevention funding source was secured for the Highway 61 corridor redesign project in Grand Marais, with the goal of creating a safer and more accessible corridor for people of all ages on foot and bike.
The project had an extensive community engagement process, including three public meetings, online input opportunities and review of videos of meetings and materials, and one-on-one meetings with businesses and property owners along the corridor and other targeted public meeting groups. After going through the robust community engagement process, Health Impact Assessment, and other supporting efforts, funding was secured through the Transportation Alternatives Program for the pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure portion of the project. This $600,000 of funding will help the project to be constructed in 2019, with additional support from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The local Safe Routes to School Committee is also working to address other top priority missing connections to school zones in Grand Marais.
The Southwest Regional Development Commission worked with the City of Lakefield to develop a Safe Routes to School Plan (June 2013) and Land Use Plan (June 2013). Both of these plans outlined projects to enable Lakefield to become more pedestrian friendly. The process entailed outlining sidewalk and trail gaps.
A key connection was missing between Pleasantview Elementary and the southern neighborhoods in Lakefield. The need for the trail project connecting the south city park and Pleasantview Elementary was discussed during the planning process for both plans.
The SRDC worked with Lakefield, Pleasantview Elementary (Jackson County Public Schools), and Jackson County Public Works to submit a Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Grant. The South Lakefield Connection Trail was selected for funding through the Minnesota Department of Transportation 2015-2016 Safe Routes to School solicitation. The success of this project was dependent on coordinated public planning processes that identified the gaps and potential solutions. This outlines how planning and plan development are key to securing funding for implementation.
Do you have a local success story to share? Submit a brief summary to firstname.lastname@example.org.