We had a blast at the 3rd National Safe Routes to School Conference which was held last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Here are some of the highlights.
Prioritizing funding of SRTS projects is an issue for applicants because funding is very competitive. A few presentations addressed methods of prioritizing projects. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has developed school ranking criteria that include enrollment demographics and traffic collision data. For infrastructure projects, schools with a high number of walkers and a high number of nearby collisions rank high. Schools with a low number of walkers and a majority of students living within one mile rank high for non-infrastructure projects. Professor Michael Lowry at the University of Idaho has developed open source GIS tools to help identify locations with the highest need for infrastructure improvements. One tool returns the expected sidewalk usage, the number of unmarked crossings, and the distance walked in the street without a sidewalk. Another tool calculates route directness and aids in identifying areas with poor connectivity.
We have worked with quite a few schools here at WALKSacramento, and how SRTS fits at each school is unique to the school, even within the relatively small geographic area that we work in. This is one of the challenges to SRTS—that it is not a one-size-fits-all program that can be implemented the same way at every location. It was interesting to hear how programs around the country are accommodating the needs of their schools. At a session on SRTS in rural communities, presenters have had success with a top-down approach, starting with local electeds or school district superintendants and one-time events like Walk to School Day. In at least one case, involving local electeds in planning for SRTS led to more pedestrian and bicycle improvements in their downtown revitalization. At another session, SRTS planners from Kansas City, Missouri discussed their experience working in a low-income community where community buy-in and a less formal approach made the program more effective.
You can find more about the excitement of the conference at www.facebook.com/saferoutesinfo.