New funding for Safe Routes to School program

Last month, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation renewed a three year grant totaling $2,999,725 to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership (SRTS). The funding made available to the program will allow SRTS to continue programs across the nation that encourage students to walk or ride bicycles to school and live healthier lives. The program provides funding for a wide variety of activities that include projects that make routes leading to and from schools safer and more accessible. Law enforcement officers and police agencies are encouraged to be a part of these programs within their community in an educational, planning and enforcement role. Police officers are in an excellent position to engage their community on a one-on-one basis through their involvement. Police departments can also receive funding to implement educational programs as well as to purchase equipment such as traffic calming devices to be used along these routes.

The Partnership
SRTS is a nationwide program that was developed using a model started in the 1970’s in Denmark. The first program in the United States was piloted in Florida in 1977 and became a nationally funded program in 2005 when congress created the Federal-Aid Safe Routes to School Program as part of a comprehensive transportation legislation package. According to the national SRTS website, there have been more than 10,000 schools affected by this program.

The unique aspect of the SRTS program is that it entails four major components; education, encouragement, enforcement and engineering. Law enforcement agencies are in an ideal position to be engaged in all of these areas within their local program as we are the ones patrolling these routes on a daily basis. Additionally, the community based policing problem solving method SARA (Scan, Analyze, Respond & Asses) fits perfectly into the development of an SRST program.

Once your agency has identified an area that would benefit from this program, you will want to begin forming community partnerships that addresses all four components. (I know, this is where you’re thinking “See Ya!” but just give me a chance.) The project doesn’t have to be lengthy and overly exhausting. Just think about what your agency is already doing and see if that can fit into your project. Do you conduct presentations at schools? Do you have community events that focus on bicycle safety? Those are easy ways to incorporate the educational component into your plan. The encouragement component can be accomplished by the school that you have partnered with through their announcements or flyers that are sent home with students. The engineering component can be accomplished by posting additional signs warning drivers of potential pedestrians or cyclists along routes, repairing uneven sidewalks and adding new or re-painting existing crosswalks. Your city’s engineer can provide you with all of the necessary information for these items to include costs.

So that brings us to the enforcement component. Who would like to purchase a new electronic speed display sign or trailer? How about some funding for selective traffic enforcement or for bicycle officers to patrol the area before and after school? These are all great strategies to use in your SRTS program and funding can be provided through one of their grant programs.

Mini Grants
Mini grants are made available annually for a maximum of $1,000 and primarily fund small activities to get a program started. For example, mini grant funds could be used to hold presentations, develop promotional items or hold a community event such as bicycle rodeo, etc. You can go to the SRTS website to see ideas that were funded through their Fall 2011 Mini Grant program.

Local Funding
Most law enforcement SRTS projects will come from local funding grants as they will exceed the $1,000 mini grant maximum. Local funding for SRTS projects are divided up into two categories; capital improvement projects and operating budgets.

Capital improvement projects are projects that are focused on improving the physical route, such as creating new sidewalks and roadways. These projects are typically identified through a planning process by the city engineer and funding is identified at least a year in advanced. These projects are typically multi-year projects as the entire process can take a couple of years from identification to completion.

Operating budget projects are typically non-infrastructure projects but can include sidewalk repair or crosswalk stripping. Law enforcement can utilize the local operating budget grant for the purchase of traffic calming devices such as electronic speed signs that not only display vehicles speed, but also collect data that can be used to identify enforcement needs. These signs can be permanently mounted in a specific location or can be portable to be utilized in multiple locations. They are solar powered and can be mounted to poles or on trailers. There are many other projects law enforcement agencies can implement through their SRTS program as long as they are directly making routes to and from schools safer and/or are encouraging students to walk and bicycle to and from school.

SRTS can be a great asset for law enforcement to reach out into the community and have a direct impact on the safety and wellbeing of our children. I don’t know of a community that couldn’t benefit from improving school routes and engaging more children in physical activity. For more information on the SRTS program in your state, contact your states Department of Transportation to find out who your state SRTS Coordinator is and how you can take advantage of this great program.

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