Introduction to Safe Routes to School
Today, more than ever, there is a need to provide options that allow children to walk and bicycle to school safely. Many communities struggle with traffic congestion around schools and motor vehicle emissions polluting the environment. At the same time, children in general engage in less physical activity, which contributes to the growing epidemic of obesity. At first glance, these problems may seem to be separate issues, but Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs can address all these challenges through a coordinated action plan.
SRTS programs use a variety of education, engineering and enforcement strategies that help make routes safer for children to walk and bicycle to school and encouragement strategies to entice more children to walk and bicycle. They have grown popular in recent years in response to problems created by an expanding built environment, a growing reliance on motor vehicles for student transportation and with the more recent development of federal and state funding of SRTS programs.
Each school starts from a unique situation and with different circumstances. Some schools have great places for walking and bicycling but few students are taking advantage of it. Other communities have children walking and bicycling to school in unsafe conditions or along poorly maintained routes, while some communities do not have children walking or bicycling to school at all. Successful SRTS programs involve the whole community. Parents, children, neighborhood groups, schools, law enforcement officers, community leaders and transportation and public health professionals help identify the issues and solutions.
The implications of SRTS can be far-reaching. SRTS programs can improve safety, not just for children, but for a community of pedestrians and bicyclists. They provide opportunities for people to become more physically active and to rely less on their motor vehicles. SRTS programs benefit the environment and a community’s quality of life by reducing traffic congestion and motor vehicle emissions.
A pilot SRTS program has been established at Chapel Hill Elementary School for the 2008 Call for Infrastructure Projects by the Georgia Department of Transportation. Several other schools will be considered for future calls for projects based on school area ranking within the Douglas County School Related Transportation Needs Assessment and school communities that are prepared to be proactive in evaluation, education, encouragement, and enforcement activities that support SRTS initiatives. It is our hope that all schools, communities, and families in the Douglas County School District will eventually benefit from Safe Routes to School programs.
In 2007, the Georgia Department of Transportation launched a new program entitled Safe Routes to School (SRTS). The initiative is aimed at making bicycling and walking to school safe and routine through providing funds and services for infrastructure improvements, and education, encouragement and enforcement activities. Federal funds are made available to help create an environment where school children in K - 8th grades can travel to school safely while walking and biking. Americans are realizing that traffic congestion, fuel consumption and air pollution near our schools, coupled with growing health and obesity concerns, make walking and biking to school a low-cost, attractive alternative.
Safe Routes to School programs present a unique opportunity for a variety of individuals to partner and work towards a common goal. Through the SRTS program, parents, school principals, school district officials, private school officials, local transportation officials, and non-profit organizations are encouraged to work together to create safe ways for children to walk and bike to school.
Georgia DOT Safe Routes to School Program Goals:
Georgia's Safe Routes to School Program is divided into two components: non-infrastructure and infrastructure. Non-infrastructure activities will be carried out through the Georgia Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School Resource Center, and infrastructure projects will be selected through a competitive application process.
- Enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school safely;
- Make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative, thereby encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age;
- Facilitate the planning, development, and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution in the vicinity (approximately 2 miles) of primary and middle schools (grades K- 8); and
- Develop comprehensive SRTS programs that incorporate all 5 "E"s: Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Engineering, and Evaluation.
Chapel Hill Elementary School Safe Routes to School Coalition
- Amanda Walpole
District Director of Injury Prevention, Cobb & Douglas Public Health
- Francine Salters
Knollview at Coursey Lakes resident
- Jane Beasley
Plantation at Dorsett Shoals HOA Representative
- Kirk Nicholson
Capital Improvements Coordinator, Douglas County School System
- Maria McTiernan
Chapel Hill Elementary School PTA
- Michelle Jarvis
Chapel Hill Elementary School PTA
- Rodney Arrington
Transportation Director, Douglas County School System
- Yvonne Kidney
Principal, Chapel Hill Elementary School
- Terri Miller
Safe Kids Douglas Coordinator
- Karen Stroud
Community Relations Director, Douglas County School System
- Don Remillard
Superintendent, Douglas County School System
- Keary Lord
Assistant Director, Douglas County Department of Transportation
- Randy Hulsey
Director, Douglas County Department of Transportation
- Traci Sullivan
Information Officer, Douglas County Sheriff's Office
Strategies for Supporting Safe Routes to Schools
Douglas County is faced with many transportation needs, and the increase in overall population and growth in student population has resulted in greater traffic congestion around the County's schools. The following strategies should be considered to support SRTS initiatives:
- Identify Interest in SRTS Programs
The Douglas County Department of Transportation and the Douglas County School System are separate entities. In order for any SRTS program to be successful, coordination and collaboration between different entities will be necessary. As part of the County's program, schools should be identified where there are favorable conditions and where there is interest from the administration, staff, parents, and students of the school to support SRTS.
- Support School Initiatives for SRTS
Many departments with the County and School System could play a role in the SRTS program, as shown in this table.
| ||Douglas County Government ||Douglas County School System |
|FIVE Es of SRTS ||Transportation ||Planning & Zoning ||Public Safety ||Transportation ||Safety ||Facilities & Maintenance ||Health Services ||Community Relations |
|Engineering ||* ||** || ||* || ||** || || |
|Enforcement || || ||* || ||* || || || |
|Education || || || ||* || || ||** ||** |
|Encouragement ||** ||** ||** ||** ||** ||** ||** ||* |
|Evaluation ||** ||** || ||** || || ||* || |
| ||* Lead Department |
** Support Department
- Examine School Transportation Policies
The Douglas County School System's policy is to provide transportation to school for anyone who requests service. Georgia Department of Education guidelines specify that students living within 1 1/2 miles of an elementary or middle school are ineligible for school bus subsidies. In many metro Atlanta counties, school bus transportation is not provided for students living within the 1 1/2-mile distance from the school. A policy change may be needed to support walking or bicycling to school within Douglas County.
- Develop Bicycle and Pedestrian Access Plan for Future Schools
Two new elementary and one new middle school are currently under development by the Board of Education. One of the elementary schools and the middle school are to be co-located on a site east of Post Road, south of Interstate 20, at 3400 Johnston Road and 7777 Mason Creek Road, respectively. The future land use around the site is Rural Places. In continued development of these school site plans, consideration should be given to how the students could either walk of bicycle to the school. Because these two schools are located in a fairly rural area within the County, walking or bicycling may not be feasible in the immediate future, but a plan should be developed to provide bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure because it is more costly to retrofit improvements.
- Co-Locate Future Schools and Residential Development
One of the major factors in determining whether it is feasible to walk or bicycle to school is the distance of the school to its student population. For SRTS programs to be successful, students must live close to the school. Every effort should be made to locate schools within walking and bicycling distance of their student populations.
A transportation plan for each new school should be developed which identifies access for vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. The transportation plan would address multimodal circulation, mobility and accessibility, and not just vehicular traffic. Thoughtful consideration of how prospective employees, staff, students and parents will travel to the school prior to a school's opening can highlight needed transportation improvements to address before problems occur. Ideally, the school system would develop each school site's plan in coordination with the County and other stakeholders.
- Provide Non-Motorized Off-Street Connections to Schools from Residential Developments
For many of the schools reviewed, the street network around the schools is not conducive for walking or bicycling to school because of a lack of connectivity. The lack of connectivity in many cases leads to much longer walking or bicycling distances between homes and schools. More direct connections between neighborhoods and schools with non-motorized paths can provide safe and shorter distance access for walking and bicycling. Off-street paths separate pedestrians from vehicles and are safer for school-age children due to the reduced exposure to vehicles. Traffic safety concerns remain on off-street paths, particularly at street connections. Pedestrian security may also be a concern, so some paths may need lighting or additional security features such as call boxes to provide a safer environment.