Minnesota Safe Routes to School Program Evaluation
MnDOT and Minnesota Department of Health are working together to evaluate schools with SRTS activities across Minnesota. The purpose of SRTS evaluation is to track walking and bicycling travel behavior in Minnesota youth over time. MnDOT and MDH support the use of Safe Routes to School Classroom Tallies and Parent Surveys in SRTS schools and Statewide Health Improvement communities across Minnesota. Classroom tallies and parent surveys are practices that help MDH and MnDOT better understand critical school and community attributes that allow increased physical activity behaviors to occur.
Evaluation is also helpful for schools and communities when developing local SRTS programs. Evaluating your local program allows you to see the changes over time, reflect on your successes and challenges, identify changes or improvements as the program grows, and can help your community make the case for SRTS grants or other funding opportunities.
MnDOT has been requiring some evaluation with SRTS grants since 2011. MnDOT and MDH are working to increase the number of schools evaluating their work.
MnDOT recommends that all schools with a SRTS program evaluate their SRTS activities. MnDOT requires evaluation during the SRTS planning process and when a community receives a SRTS grant.
MDH and the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) is seeking to work with schools and communities to implement classroom tallies and parent surveys that have at least three of the following attributes:
- Implementation of SRTS in SHIP 1, 2, and/or 3
- Recipient of MnDOT funding
- Demonstration of the 5Es (e.g. education and encouragement activities for SRTS – e.g., bike – walk to school day or bike ped curriculum, bike rodeo, school patrol, etc.)
- Implementation of infrastructure to increase biking and walking (e.g., sidewalks, safe crossing, etc.)
- Documented SRTS travel plan
- Statewide geographic distribution
- Other: Please identify any other attributes that support the goal of increasing biking and walking through your SHIP efforts
- Follow National Center for Safe Routes to Schools best practice methodology - http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/data-central
- Complete parent surveys and hand tallies in all classrooms working on SRTS activities
- Report tally and survey data into the National Center for Safe Routes to School website database no later than one month after collection: October 7, 2014.
2014 Evaluation Dates
- Participate in classroom tallies and parent surveys during September 9-11, 2014 for at least one day, and enter data in National Center for Safe Routes Data Central.
Required Evaluation for Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Grants
MnDOT requires Safe Routes to Schools plans or a planning process, as well as evaluation data to apply for SRTS infrastructure funds. Schools are required to provide baseline data to apply. The data must be current (within the last two school years and/or after significant infrastructure improvements) and can be part of the planning process or collected for this project.
If awarded funding, schools are required to complete post-project evaluation. This includes parent surveys and hand tallies during the September evaluation week.
Safe Routes to School Non-Infrastructure Grants
MnDOT recommends that all schools with non-infrastructure grants complete the recommended hand tallies and parent surveys in September. We will no longer ask for twice a year hand tallies and parent surveys, those will be optional.
- National Center for Safe Routes to School Webinar
- National Center for Safe Routes to School Evaluation Guide
- Parent Survey Information
- Student Hand Tallies Information
Safe Routes planning process
SRTS plans are comprehensive school travel plans created for schools to evaluate existing conditions and make an action plan for future work. Some plans focus on one school, while others focus on a school district.
The planning process begins by working with the local SRTS team to evaluate conditions through walking audits, parent surveys and hand tallies. At the end of the planning process an action plan is developed to guide the SRTS work at the school. The action plan includes long and short term goals, and includes implementation goals of infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects.
Another key piece of the planning process is outreach to stakeholders throughout the school year; including parents, students, teachers and other local partners.
MnDOT funds planning work at schools across Minnesota. These plans are completed by Regional Development Commissions or in areas without an RDC, by a planning consultant hired by MnDOT. Many communities have also done variations of this planning work or worked with other funding sources to do this work.
The plan requirement for grant solicitations
Since 2013, MnDOT has required SRTS plans or a planning process to apply for SRTS infrastructure grants. The Transportation Alternatives Program solicitations through the Area Transportation Partnerships and the Metropolitan Council solicitation also require or encourage a SRTS plan to apply. The plan requirement has been strongly recommended by our Steering Committee and has been successful in other states. Ohio is often referenced as a successful example where they require a standalone SRTS plan to even apply for funding.
While the map of known plan shows only 101 communities with SRTS plans, that does not mean they are the only ones eligible to apply. Those communities have all completed comprehensive SRTS plans. Many of them focus on one school or a school district. The majority have been completed by Regional Development Commissions or a planning consultant using SHIP or MnDOT funds.
MnDOT has prioritized SRTS planning because of the results we’re seeing come out of the planning process. In 2014, 11 out of 18 projects funded for infrastructure grants had a SRTS plan and 3 out of 18 are beginning plans this fall. We also see new partnerships being formed between community partners (SRTS teams completing the plan often include engineers, mayors, school staff, students and public health all working together) and these partnerships are creating more sustainable programs. Examples include finding new resources (after school programs to teach walking and biking safety), teams that keep meeting once the plan is complete to work on implementation, and communities adding projects to their capital improvement budgets to make needed changes without waiting for grant funding.
So what do you do if you don’t have a SRTS plan?
Many communities are doing the same type of planning activities that we find SRTS planning schools are doing. They might not have it all documented in one place or it might look slightly different. So here are tips and ideas for applying for SRTS funding without a SRTS plan:
- Use other related plans: we see SRTS projects and programs mentioned in comprehensive plans, SRTS infrastructure only plans, bicycle master plans, pedestrian plans, active living plans and parks and trails plans
- Check out this great new resource on SRTS and comprehensive plans
- Support those plans with additional information that covers all 5e’s (engineering, education, encouragement, evaluation and enforcement)
- Maybe it’s info from your local SHIP Coordinator about Walk to School Day and walking school buses or maybe there is an after school program teaching bicycle safety education. These are the types of activities that we want to see supporting the infrastructure requests.
- Minneapolis Public schools has small, easy to use travel plans that are a great reference for schools looking to do some non-infrastructure planning on their own. There are also programs ideas on the MnDOT resources page.
- Show us that the project is supported by the community
- Maybe the city completed a walk audit with the school and partners, or maybe it’s listed on the city/school district approved walking route for that school, this is helpful to know for evaluating applications.
- Did you have a public meeting about the project? Maybe the project idea was written up positively in the local paper?
- Do you have a school SRTS team meeting regularly or maybe it’s a standing item on your PTA/PTO agenda? Or even a student environmental club that has goals for walking and biking?
- Check the National Center for Safe Routes to School Data Center for evaluation data
- Doing hand tallies and parent surveys in December can be challenging. Check out the Data Center to see if there is data from within the last year that will support this grant. Some communities working with SHIP without a plan have done evaluation. More info on evaluation above.
So before you call your local planning agency and ask for a completed SRTS plan by January, see what info you can pull together first. Many communities have done a lot of the initial planning work, it may not be a complete planning process, but it may be enough to support a successful project. Communities interested in completing SRTS planning can also join our mailing list to learn about future programs and solicitations.
SRTS Neighborhood Assessment
Communities should use the SRTS Neighborhood Assessment to evaluate and summarize the current conditions that impact youth’s ability to walk and bicycle to school safely. Data from the evaluations will be stored and tracked by MnDOT to develop a better understanding of statewide conditions for youth walking and bicycling to school.
SRTS Neighborhood Assessments are required for all SRTS plans funded by MnDOT and are strongly encouraged for all communities working to support SRTS. To use the assessment tool, first review and complete the SRTS Neighborhood Assessment Guide (PDF, 2.88 MB) and then complete the SRTS Assessment Tool online survey to record and submit answers.