Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

Safe Routes to School

For parents

Why Safe Routes?

A child riding her bike with her mother guiding her from behind

Safe Routes Minnesota provides funding to community and school groups to make improvements to the routes your children use to walk and bike to school. Communities around schools suffer from traffic congestion and the stress that comes with it. Neighborhood environments suffer from toxins released by cars polluting the air we breath. Children are becoming less active and more overweight.

Safe Routes Minnesota takes a holistic approach to all these problems, creating a positive effect on neighborhood and school communities through a simple solution: helping children walk and bike to school via safe routes. When this happens, neighborhoods reap the benefits instantly – children, parents, neighbors, plants, animals and the air all become healthier and happier.

It's up to you – however you get involved with Safe Routes Minnesota, your actions with have a positive ripple effect.

How does Safe Routes work?

A bridge was built so kids can safely cross over to the other side of the neighborhood.
Two kids sitting on their bikes on a small bridge

Improvements may include physical infrastructure changes or non-infrastructure programs.

  1. Community and school groups work together to assess the safety of existing routes to school and the potential new safe routes.
  2. The group writes a proposal for improvements and a plan for developing a comprehensive Safe Routes program in the community.
  3. If the proposal is approved, Safe Routes Minnesota reimburses the group for the expenses incurred in making the improvements.
  4. In the end, children travel a safer path to school...and a healthier path into adulthood.

Infrastructure examples

  • Traffic-calming devices ("Your Speed" monitors, child alert signs)
  • Biking/Walking trails
  • New sidewalks
  • Additional crosswalks and traffic signals

Non-Infrastructure examples

  • Incentive programs that rewards kids for walking/biking
  • Educational materials to teach kids safety techniques
  • Public education about driving safely around schools

How can I get involved?

Become part of an existing group. Your neighborhood association or neighborhood watch group might be a good place to find concerned parents like yourself and piggyback on the group's existing meeting schedule to spread the word.

If you can put Safe Routes to School concerns on their agenda, you'll be likely to find helpful allies who want to make the same changes you do. If there are no such groups in your neighborhood, start talking to other parents who share your interest in developing safe routes for your children – perhaps your combined skills, attitudes and talents will form a group of its own!

Form your own Safe Routes group. There's more than one way to create a group around Safe Routes to School:

  • Create an outreach committee: collect input from parents, teachers and students, and publicize the program to the school and community
  • Education and encouragement activities committee: work closely with school administration and teachers to put education and encouragement activities in place, gather materials for activities and solicit donations for programming and prizes
  • Enforcement and engineering committee: develop recommendations for enforcement and engineering solutions. Work closely with local government and other resources to find funding and make improvements
  • Traffic safety committee: identify unsafe drivers' behavior and develop an education campaign to increase awareness
  • Visit the national Safe Routes to School site for more ways to increase awareness.

Get your school on board. Schools are in a prime position to apply for funds to implement comprehensive Safe Routes to School programs.
Inform you child's principal, PTA, or school board about the opportunities that Safe Routes Minnesota presents. Remind them that children who start their day actively generally have longer attention spans, more enthusiasm, and test higher on standardized tests.

Write a Letter to the Editor. If you're really passionate about your safe routes to school program and finding ways to rally the community to the cause, we can help you write letters to the editor of your local paper. Contact saferoutes.dot@state.mn.us for letter ideas to educate neighbors, friends and community publications.

Other suggestions include:

  • Discuss a walking/biking incentive program with teachers, where children are rewarded for being active on a daily basis
  • Ask teachers to send letters home to other parents, informing them about the importance of walking and biking for their children
  • Send teachers to this web site! Our Educators section has plenty of information that will help them implement Safe Routes changes in their schools.

Common concerns and responses

The primary reason kids don't walk or bike to school is that parents are too busy, it's faster to drive the kids or they're afraid for their kids' safety.

Here are some answers that you can give to other parents as you start Safe Routes to School in your area to help them see through their fears and busy schedules and understand the benefits of walking and biking to school.

"There's no safe route to school for my kids or I'm worried about crime in the neighborhood."

Response: Actually, we're in the process of making changes that'll make it safer for kids to walk and bike to school safely. Saferoutes to School will make it easier and safer for kids to walk to school.

"I don't have time to walk my kids to school."

Response: What about a supervised walking school bus, where you take turns with other parents picking kids up and walking or biking with them to school? If you get enough parents involved, you'll only have to do it a few times. Or maybe you could drop your kids off a few blocks from school and let them walk from there. That'll take you less time than driving them all the way in.

"I don't think my child should be crossing streets."

Response: Experts say that kids 10 and older are okay to cross streets unsupervised. As long as your kids know the rules of the road, traffic really shouldn't be a concern that gets in the way of their health.

"I'm afraid my child will be taken by a stranger."

Response: To start out, you can walk the route with your child and make sure he knows people along the way. The neighbors along the route are (will be) aware that it is a safe route and are there to help. Also, if your child walks with a group of children or in a walking school bus, he or she will be safer from strangers. Most importantly, be sure your child knows not to talk to strangers and to run for help if he feels threatened. Strangers really shouldn't be a problem.

"We live too far away from the school."

Response: You can drive your child halfway so she can get exercise by walking or biking the rest of the way. This way, you can help your child pick the best route to the school. It'll also help you save time because you're not driving all the way to school, and you'll avoid the headaches of all the parents trying to drop their kids off at the same time.

"I just don't think it's a good idea."

Response: Walking and biking regularly will help your kids stay healthy now and develop habits that'll ensure they live long, healthy lives. The more children who walk and bike to school, the less auto traffic and less gas used. The less traffic, the less air and noise pollution and decreased chances of respiratory problems in growing children. When children walk or bike, rather than ride in a car, neighborhoods reap the benefits instantly – children, parents, neighbors, plants, animals and the air all become healthier and happier.

Tips to keep kids safe as they walk/bike to school

One key factor in keeping kids safe as they walk and bike to school is teaching them the necessary safety skills. As a parent, you have the most influence on how your children behave on their way to school. Here are some safety guidelines every parent should know:

  • Children under 10 years of age should not be crossing streets without adult supervision.
  • If your kids will be walking to school on their own, go with them the first few times. This way, you can identify dangers, point them out to your children, and direct your children to the safest possible route.
  • When it comes to crossing streets, children need to be aware of all the different ways cars can cross their path. Explain the rules of the road and give them real-life examples while you're out walking together.
  • Explain how traffic signals work. Make sure your children know how important it is to cross streets at the appropriate times in the appropriate places.
  • If your kids are biking, make sure their bikes are the appropriate size and have fully operational brakes, chains, and reflectors.
  • A child should have a certified bike helmet and know how to wear it properly.
  • If your kids are old enough to ride their bikes with traffic, teach them hand signals. Keep in mind that kids younger than 10 years old should always ride on the sidewalks.
  • Tell your kids how to deal with strangers and safe places to go if they need help on their route to school.
  • Walk and bike with your child often. Remember, they'll follow the example that you set for them. Show them that physical activity is an important (and fun) part of life. You'll also be showing them how to walk and bike safely!