Walk This Way
- By Michael Fickes
- February 1st, 2008
The City of District Heights in
Prince George’s County, MD, recently repaved an intersection in front of an
elementary school. They raised the intersection a couple of feet above the
roads leading to the intersection. “They made a big speed bump in the
intersection,” chuckles Joseph Pelaia, who coordinates the Maryland State
Highway Administration’s (SHA) efforts in connection with a federal program
called Safe Routes To School (SRTS). “The speed bump will slow traffic down
around the school. Plans also call for striping and signage that will signal
traffic to slow down.”
The police are running classes
about how to safely cross streets and walk safely to school.
When the project is complete, the
police will study traffic in the intersection to see if the changes have had
slowed drivers down, compared to studies done before the project.
SRTS is a state-administered federal
program designed to make it safe for kids to walk and ride bicycles to school.
States and schools across the country are participating.
The Safe, Accountable, Flexible,
Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), enacted
in 2005 to disperse federal highway funds, created SRTS and funded it with
$612M over five years from 2005 to 2009.
By the end of fiscal 2008, SRTS
will have distributed $7.13M throughout Maryland for projects in K-8 schools.
As traffic volumes have increased
over the years, parents have felt less and less comfortable letting their
children walk or bike to school. There are too many vehicles traveling too fast
along the routes the kids would take.
According to the Center for Disease
Control (CDC), 85 percent of the trips made by children to school are made by
car or school bus. Kids walk or bicycle to school just 13 percent of the time.
The Federal Highway Administration,
which manages SRTS, says the purpose of the program is three-fold:
- To enable and encourage children, including those
with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school.
- To make bicycling and walking to school a safer and
more appealing transportation alternative, thereby encouraging a healthy
and active lifestyle from an early age.
- To 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 of
SRTS funds are distributed
according to a formula that calculates a state’s percentage of the national
total of school-aged children in grades K-8. Every state receives a minimum
allocation of at least $1M, no matter how small the K-8 population.
Funds cover two kinds of projects:
infrastructure and non-infrastructure. Infrastructure projects include road
improvements and construction like the intersection improvement in District
Heights. Non-infrastructure projects cover informational efforts, such as the
classes run by the District Heights police to teach children safe practices for
walking and biking to school.
The legislation requires that not
less than 10 percent and not more than 30 percent of each state’s apportionment
will pay for non-infrastructure projects. The lion’s share of the money must go
to infrastructure improvements.
Delaware’s $5M SRTS Program
Delaware receives the minimum
funding allowable under the SRTS rules: $1M per year for each of the program’s
five years, for a total of $5M.
Despite the low funding level,
Sarah Coakley, AICP, SRTS Coordinator in Delaware has developed an innovative
approach to SRTS.
“We’re bundling the funding into a
single $5M program that will be dispersed through state contracts,” says
Coakley. “This way, the schools don’t have to worry about managing federal aid
contracts — which require paying set wages, competitive bidding, and a lot of
paper work documenting that they have met the requirements.”
Instead, the state will take on the
federal contract and management responsibilities, allowing the schools to focus
on program content.
One Delaware DOT (DelDOT) funded
SRTS program is operating at the Nellie Hughes Stokes Elementary School in
Dover. The school purchased and installed bike racks and constructed a
mixed-use trail for walkers and bikers. Non-infrastructure funding pays a
stipend to the school level SRTS coordinator. The coordinator in turn is
running a training program for student crossing guards who manage traffic on
campus. The coordinator has also organized a walking club called the Stokes
Striders, which rewards the best walkers with small prizes of less than $50 in
While individual schools run most
projects, Coakley is working with a district interested in a district-wide
program. “This is exciting,” she says. “A district-wide program will make it
easier to prioritize projects. Applications will include only the most
important projects. I hope the approach catches on.”