A few weeks ago, the Colorado Safe Routes to School State Network convened to contemplate this very question. Dave Cowan, of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, kicked the meeting off with a status update of funding for SRTS from the new federal transportation bill passed earlier this spring. Long (and rather complicated) story short, funding for biking and walking initiatives has taken a large cut overall (from $1.2 billion in 2011 reduced to $800 million for 2012 in the current transportation bill) and the Safe Routes to School Program no longer has dedicated federal funding (in 2011 $182 million was dedicated directly to SRTS). According to Dave, "This means that Safe Routes to School projects will compete in a combined funding pot with other bicycling and walking projects as well as the new eligibilities of environmental mitigation and boulevard construction. What does this mean? It means that in order to successfully compete, potential Safe Routes to School projects will need to be leaner, meaner and more effective than ever!" It also means that momentum for SRTS will have to come from state, local, and grassroots efforts. Read more of Dave's take on the new transportation bill in his article Who Moved My Cheese?
The good news is that Colorado has an excellent history of supporting SRTS. Marissa Robinson of the Colorado Department of Transportation, shared with the audience that CDOT has already administered $14 million in grants to date and that Colorado is a leader in SRTS. In fact, one in seven Colorado schools participates in International Walk to School Day, placing us second in the nation, behind Mississippi (really? surely we can beat Mississippi this year!). Also Colorado is home to two James L. Oberstar award winning schools, Bear Creek Elementary and Heatherwood Elementary, both in Boulder. This is the highest award a school can receive for outstanding SRTS efforts and it has only been awarded fives times nationwide (impressive that Colorado has clenched it twice)! But, Marissa also emphasized the need for grassroots efforts in Colorado to keep up our momentum.
So, how do you get a SRTS program running at a grassroots level? Bicycle Colorado shared how to start an Encouragement Program, which are designed to increase the number of students who walk or bike to school:
Steps to Start and Encouragement Program:
1. Organize a kickoff meeting, including parents, staff, wellness committee
2. Create a FUN program! (See ideas below)
3. Organize volunteers, identify champions of your program (teachers, principal, motivated parents, older students, retirees)
4. Plan an event: A big day, week, month or year (Bike to School Day, Walk and Wheeling Wednesdays, Walk and Roll Week, "Walktober" during the month of October)
Fun, Easy and Free (or Cheap) Encouragement Ideas from Bicycle Colorado:
*stickers, small prizes, high fives, extra recess, class party or even a new bike
*create small punch cards or back pack tags for students, each day they walk, bike carpool, they can earn a "punch" or stamp.
*Make announcements over the loud speaker encouraging students to bike or walk to school on a particular day
*Have students make posters or banners to promote walking and biking to school safely. Encourage safe behavior, such as using crosswalks, helmet use and bicycle rules of the road. Hang somewhere visible for the whole school to see.
*Challenge each class or grade to have a Walking and Wheeling Contest. The grades with the most students that participate are eligible to win prize.
*Parents enroll kids at www.saferoutescolorado.org. This interactive website allows students to track their trips, miles traveled, calories burned and to compare progress to other Colorado schools.
*Flat Fourteeners: www.flat14ers.org. Enroll as an individual or school.
*Use sidewalk chalk and write walking biking encouragement messages on sidewalks in front of the school.
*Have art classes paint the bike racks or decorate the school with bicycling/walking themed art.
Plan Rides and Walks to School:
*Walking School Bus/Bike Train: Encourage involved parents to plan walking/biking groups (similar to a carpool) from different neighborhoods. A fun and safe way to meet people and get to school.
*Remote drop off/pick up: Locate a safe area a few blocks from school (park, tennis courts, etc) and use it as your meeting point. Students can bike/walk to school form there (may need supervision).
*Use parents or older students as corner captains on main routes to school. They can share the duty of supervising students walking/biking to and from school.
Keep it Rolling
*Try Walking and Wheeling Wednesdays one time per week, month, or semester. Use student council or older student group to help plan your events, hand out incentives, help lock bikes and cheer fellow students on as they arrive at school.