Monitoring and documenting outcomes, attitudes and trends through the collection of data before and after the SRTS interventions.
Long-term Safe Routes to School programs should kick-off with a thorough evaluation of the situation at the school or district. Armed with an accurate snapshot of the realities of student perception, concerns of parents, assessment of the physical environment around the school and a scan of the policies that may or may not support walking and bicycling. Advocates can begin to create a school travel plan that will best suit the individual needs of their unique situation.
There are numerous methods for quickly collecting this information. Surveys of parents help to reveal why parents are driving their children to school instead of allowing them to walk or bicycle, and will provide insight into what changes might encourage a shift in their behavior. Student surveys elicit the attitudes of the youth, and help demonstrate how to craft a program that will be appealing to the younger generation.
It’s also important to know, before Safe Routes to School interventions begin, what percentages of students are walking, biking, taking the bus, being driven alone, and carpooling to school. Taking this baseline measurement will help you gauge the effects of the program on student travel choices. Student In-Class Travel Tallies, including a record of the weather and time of year, should be taken throughout several days in September and May of each school year.
Evaluation data is key to determining the scope and the success of a Safe Routes to School program. The tools mentioned above are a great starting point to understanding travel choices at your school or district and provide the understanding and foundation for an effective, targeted Safe Routes to School program.
Creating operational and physical improvements to the infrastructure surrounding schools that reduce speeds and potential conflicts with motor vehicle traffic, and establish safer and fully accessible crossings, walkways, trails and bikeways.
Often, during the evaluation process, survey data will indicate that there are significant concerns about the designs of streets, intersections, lack of sidewalks/crosswalks/signage or poorly timed traffic lights. Changes to the built environment through engineering improvements are a critical component of Safe Routes to School so most successful programs include a thorough community assessment of the barriers for children walking and bicycling to school. Safe Routes to School programs often organize Walking and Bicycling Audits so that parents can join city engineers and police officers in walking the routes to school and identifying everyday problems that children encounter, including complaints such as: it’s impossible to cross the street, the sidewalk ends, there is no bike trail, the cars go too fast, etc. These audits, sometimes referred to as "walk-a-bouts", can also identify opportunities such as short-cuts and preferred routes that children could take to schools. Through a community-wide approach to engineering, a wish list of capital improvements can be generated and separated into two categories: short-term improvements and long-term improvements. Short-term improvements such as landscaping maintenance, altering the timing of traffic lights, painting crosswalks or installing stop signs are immediate fixes which can be done on a small budget within a short time frame, often through the use of a city’s general funds. Long-term needs such as installing sidewalks, pathways, bridges and reconstructing intersections should be prioritized as part of the capital improvement plan for the city.
Teaching children about the broad range of transportation choices, instructing them in important lifelong bicycling and walking safety skills and launching driver safety campaigns in the vicinity of schools.
A focus on education is always an important component for programs that seek to alter cultural norms. As Safe Routes to School is multi-disciplinary in nature, there are vast opportunities for educational outreach to students, parents, school staff and the community. Many U.S. programs offer bicycle and pedestrian safety training in the classroom and "in the field" (through obstacle courses set up on school black-tops) to teach children the basics associated with walking and bicycling with traffic. Young elementary school children (6-8 years old) are taught skills such as how to cross the street, not to dart in front of cars and how to look for cars when walking past driveways. When children reach the fourth and fifth grades (8-10 years old), they are often taught the basics of bicycling, including balancing, signaling, following traffic rules and how to properly wear a helmet. Police officers can be brought into schools to instruct children what to do when approached by a stranger, and many police officers will also help with traffic safety training. Through educational programs, parents are asked to follow the rules of the road when they are driving, walking and bicycling. They are encouraged to practice walking and bicycling with their children, as traffic safety is learned behavior that can only be acquired through hands-on experiences. Additionally, driver safety campaigns can extend to high school students and to the entire community, so that everyone becomes aware of the fact that children are walking and bicycling and that sharing the road can be a matter of life or death.
Using events and activities to promote walking and bicycling and to generate enthusiasm for the program with students, parents, staff and surrounding community.
Families are busy and it’s often hard to make a change in daily routines; however, many parents are willing to let their children participate in special events such as a Walk and Bike to School Day". Special events are one form of an encouragement program and provide a way for families to break their routines and try something new. When a majority of the school participates in a special event, it can create a snapshot of what life could look like if every day was a "Walk and Bike to School Day".
Contests, which can foster individual and classroom competition, also help to get kids out of cars and onto feet and bikes. Some schools run contests such as the "Frequent Rider Miles Program" where kids track how they come to school and receive points for "pollution free" miles. Other contests such as Walk and Bike Across America encourage classrooms to track the overall number of miles the children have covered by walking and bicycling, and then to plot the distances consecutively on a map. The exercise results in a math lesson, and can become a history lesson as student can virtually "visit" the locations on the map that they visit.
Special events and contests have been proven effective in inspiring students, parents, elected officials and school leaders to try something new, which often results in the development of ongoing programs to encourage walking and bicycling. Other successful encouragement programs facilitate ways for parents to walk and bicycle with groups of children who live together in a neighborhood. Through the formation of"walking school buses" and "bike trains," parents can take turns transporting groups of children eliminating many parental fears of walking and bicycling by ensuring a supervised commute and creating strong community cooperation.
Partnering with local law enforcement to ensure that traffic laws are obeyed in the vicinity of schools (this includes enforcement of speeds, yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks and proper walking and bicycling behaviors) and initiating community enforcement such as crossing guard programs and student safety patrols.
The main goal for Safe Routes to School enforcement strategies is to deter unsafe behaviors and deter unsafe behaviors of drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists and to encourage all road users to obey traffic laws and share the road safely. Enforcement is one of the complementary strategies that SRTS programs use to enable more children to walk and bicycle to school safely. But enforcement used alone will not likely have a long-term effect. Communities must utilize a combination of enforcement, engineering, education and encouragement strategies to address the specific needs of their schools and achieve long-term results.
The public typically thinks of enforcement as officers writing tickets. In fact, enforcement, especially for SRTS programs, is a network of community members working together to promote safe walking, bicycling and driving. This can be accomplished through safety awareness, education and, where necessary, the use of ticketing for dangerous behaviors. Enforcement includes students, parents, adult school crossing guards, school personnel and neighborhood watch programs all working in conjunction with law enforcement. Working together to enforce rules for safe walking, bicycling and driving makes it safer and easier for everyone to walk and bicycle.