Walk This Way

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.

Why SRTS?

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:

  1. To enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 schools.

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 value.

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.”

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