Creating the long-term changes that will make it easier for students to bike and walk to school in our communities requires attention to policy. Policies that impact Safe Routes to School exist at multiple scales and involve different people, groups, and levels of government. Supporting positive change can mean getting involved with ongoing planning/policymaking processes or pushing for an entirely new policy depending on local circumstances. This page provides guidance on policies that may or may not exist in your community, and how you can use policy to create long-term support for Safe Routes to School and active transportation in general.
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership’s Local Policy Guide recommends a model called the Seven P’s of Policy Change to help evaluate proposed policy changes. The model presents a set of questions that address power, processes, and other important considerations.
Cities, counties, and other jurisdictions use BPMPs to define and map current biking and walking routes, assess network gaps, and set future infrastructure priorities. It is important to engage in the planning process to make schools priority destinations for active transportation and to ensure consistency with existing Safe Routes to School plans.
The CIP describes a community’s planned infrastructure investments. They can be short- or long-term, and usually include budgets and project descriptions. The CIP functions as a system of prioritization for projects, and the public input process can be an opportunity to push for the addition of new projects or influence the addition of SRTS elements to existing projects.
Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are required to produce RTPs at least every four years. RTPs include estimates of the amount of transportation funding available up to 25-30 years from the present, and a blueprint for how transportation priorities and plans will meet regional needs and goals. Making active transportation a priority can support Safe Routes to School by justifying the allocation of resources for biking and walking improvements.
General or comprehensive plans articulate local government goals and priorities in areas such as land use, housing, transportation, economic development, and the environment. The length of time between plan updates varies from community to community. In the seven-county Twin Cities metro area, the Metropolitan Council requires cities to submit comprehensive plan updates every ten years. Comprehensive plans will often adopt existing bicycle/pedestrian or SRTS plans by reference, but they can also be a platform to establish policies and goals focused on complete streets (see below), bicycle and pedestrian mode share and accessibility, and school siting (see below).
SRTS plans can focus on a single school, but they can also be created at a school district, city, or county level. This can be an effective way to create collaboration between schools, pool resources, and establish a more coordinated approach to influencing local policy.
Cities with complete streets policies commit to considering all road users in every new transportation project, including people walking and people on bikes. Complete streets policies support road redesigns and other projects that accommodate and enhance the safety of people traveling in many different ways. Context is key when considering complete streets projects, and an official policy can provide additional support for Safe Routes improvements near schools.
When school’s place bond issues on local ballots hoping to raise funds for school construction or renovation, it creates an opportunity to set aside funds for Safe Routes to School projects. New capital construction can give SRTS advocates the chance to build community support for biking and walking infrastructure on or near school campuses.
In some states, units of government such as cities and counties can levy an additional sales tax and dedicate the revenue to funding transportation projects. One example in Minnesota is the Local Option Sales Tax for Transportation, which can be levied by resolution at the county level. One eligible use for the tax dollars is to fund capital costs for Safe Routes to School projects.
A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a tool that community members can use to evaluate an existing or proposed policy or plan according to its effects on public health. HIAs can be used to generate support for SRTS work by showing the health effects of existing land use and transportation policies. The Minnesota Department of Health provides technical assistance and training on the HIA process.
Speed limits near schools are determined by state maximum and minimum speed limits and the location of school zones. In Minnesota, cities and counties can request a traffic study to establish school zones and set speed limits. The minimum allowable speed limit in a Minnesota school zone is 15 mph. The Public Health Law Center is one source for more information on speed limits in Minnesota school zones.
School resource officers can be a major asset in setting school safety policies and serving as a connection to local police departments. Policies that establish a stronger police presence during times when students are walking or biking to school can make both students and parents feel safer. For more information on working with law enforcement, see the Enforcement section.
Learning the basics of how to walk and bike safely is vital for young students. Policies that incorporate safety lessons into the classroom or field trips can help instill safe behaviors. In Minnesota, the Walk! Bike! Fun! Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Curriculum is being taught in schools across the state.
Crossing guards help students cross the street at busy intersections near schools. A crossing guard policy created in cooperation with local schools, law enforcement, and transportation professionals is an important step towards a sustainable and effective program. The Minnesota SRTS program’s online crossing guard training is a great place to start.
Cutting back on school bus route service is a common cost-saving measure for school districts. Reduced bus service can create an opportunity to establish or update a district or school-level transportation policy to better support students who walk and bike.
Some schools have policies that actively discourage or prevent students from walking or biking to school. Learning more about why a particular policy was implemented can provide insight as to the direction a more proactive and positive policy should take. Policies that encourage and support walking and biking can be part of broader school wellness policies (see below)
The location and design of school campuses have a major effect on the ability of students to walk and bike to school. Larger schools on the periphery of cities increase the distance students must travel and reduces their ability to walk or bike. SRTS advocates should engage in local conversations about school siting when they occur.
When schools are closed or consolidated, little consideration is given to the ability of students to walk and bike to school. Including school siting in a city’s comprehensive plan can provide a framework for ensuring a public process and considering a wider range of factors.
School wellness policies are intended to improve student health through physical activity and nutrition strategies. Support for various SRTS projects or programs can be built into these policies as one component of the physical activity strategy. Since federally-mandated wellness policies are required to engage the community in their development, there is already a pathway for involvement.
Joint use agreements allow schools to cooperate with another government entity to share public use of property or facilities. This can allow for the preservation of neighborhood schools that lack outdoor space by allowing students to use other nearby facilities, or by sharing on-site maintenance costs that a school alone might struggle to cover.
Arrival and departure times can be very unsafe for children who walk and bike to school. Policy changes at the school level can modify traffic flow on or near school campuses to reduce conflicts between people in cars and students arriving at or leaving school. Policies can also influence the location of infrastructure such as bike parking to increase safety and convenience for students at the beginning and end of the day.
Policies that ensure adequate, secure bike parking for students and staff are an essential component of SRTS. Stolen bikes are a major deterrent to biking to school for both students and parents. Bike racks should be placed in convenient, well-lit, and visible locations. The Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals produces a guide called Essentials of Bike Parking that provides detailed guidance on choosing and siting bike parking in a given context.
One specific arrival/departure policy is known as remote drop-off, which requires parents and bus drivers to drop students off at a location a short distance away from school property. This eliminates potential conflicts that result from congestion in the immediate vicinity of schools during arrival and departure, making it safer for students walking and biking to approach the school.
A school or district level no idling policy can greatly improve air quality on and around school property. While this type of policy is not commonly associated with SRTS programs, air quality is an important component of making communities safe for students to walk and bike, especially for those with asthma and allergies.