A print version of this meeting summary is available here.
On Tuesday, October 28, 2014, over 60 people from the Greater Washington, D.C. region came together for the annual Safe Routes to School Regional Network Meeting. The meeting was an opportunity to showcase the approaches that different communities in the region are using to make it safer to walk and bike to school and in the community, as well as hear best practices from around the country. The event took place at the offices of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in Washington, DC, and was generously supported by Kaiser Permanente. Presentations and other materials from the meeting are available here.
Keynote Address: Mark Fenton
The morning kicked off with Mark Fenton, a national expert on Safe Routes to School, complete streets and public health. Mark fired up the crowd with his speech on how to make policy change to support Safe Routes to School. Mark laid out the health trends driving the childhood obesity epidemic, arguing that we need to change the conversation to focus on twin epidemics: physical inactivity and poor nutrition. Getting more kids to walk or bike to school, as they once did, could improve child health outcomes, but parents and school officials have safety concerns and other priorities that have made it hard to get the attention it needs. But we can make Safe Routes to School a “wedge” issue and insert it into these other conversations. Often parents and school officials are concerned about academic performance, and physical activity has been shown to make students more alert and perform better on tests. Many schools schedule recess for after lunch, leading many students to eat quickly so they can go play outside. After one school switched recess to before lunch, it saw that kids ate healthier and performed better the rest of the school day. So getting more kids to walk and bike to school can have similar benefits. In addition, budget issues are always a top concern for school administrators. With more kids walking and biking to school, there may be less traffic congestion and need for buses, which can reduce transportation spending. There may also be less need for staff time to serve as traffic cops. Mark also laid out the five “E’s” of Safe Routes to School and shared success stories from around the U.S.
One of the biggest takeaways from Mark’s presentation was that Safe Routes to School advocates need to fully engage top school administrators in order to make progress on policy and environment change. It is not enough to have a coordinator, P.E. teacher or PTA on board, we need the principals and superintendents. Anything less and we will be spinning our wheels on short-term outcomes and one-off activities like walking school buses, walk-to-school events, safety training and encouragement. We also need municipal transportation departments fully on board, including traffic engineers and public works. They hold significant power over our roads, and we need to convince them to rethink decades-old design standards that inhibit safe walking and bicycling in our communities.
Mark’s Presentation: Fenton_SRTS Presentation
National Best Practices: Carol Kachadoorian
In the next session, Carol Kachadoorian of Toole Design Group shared examples of Safe Routes to School initiatives around the country, including a handful of factors affecting program outcomes. A successful Safe Routes to School program involves a number of considerations and is context-based. First, it depends on the size of the community. In smaller communities, it can be easier to engage local leaders in the SRTS discussion, whereas in larger communities, it takes school community leaders and other intermediaries to be the champions. Second, the orientation of the streets in the community matters. If a community is very auto-oriented, it can be harder to get kids to walk or bike to school compared to a community built with a street grid or that has a strong complete streets policy. It also matters if school facilities are interconnected – are the elementary, middle and high schools on one campus, including the recreational facilities? Third, the target of Safe Routes to School initiatives is often the low-hanging fruit: easy targets such as well-resourced schools with active parents and receptive school officials. These are good to get a movement going, but advocates should think about harder and better targets such as Title I and under-resourced schools, equity and safety concerns. Fourth, the role of the department of transportation is important. Does the DOT distribute money or do they give out goods and services? There is the “Resource Center” model with consolidated support from the DOT, and the “Get the Money Out” model where communities basically “learn to fish” themselves through mini-grants and funds from the DOT. Fifth, youth engagement is important. Advocates need to include student participation in SRTS discussions. It can’t just be the parents. Finally, successful SRTS programs “widen the circle” of influence. They include multiple departments and jurisdictions. Nontraditional partners such as metropolitan planning organizations and regional planning councils can help convene a regional discussion on Safe Routes to School. Coordinator between education and transportation departments is also critical, as SRTS programs differ in where they are housed from community to community.
Carol’s presentation: Kachadoorian_SRTS Presentation
Stories from the Region
The third and final session of the Regional Meeting provided an opportunity for local Safe Routes to School coordinators and advocates to share updates on their efforts over the past year.
Safe Routes Goes to High School in Montgomery County: YOLO WalkSafe
Nadji Kirby, Safe Routes to School Coordinator for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, shared the #YOLOWalkSafe High School Pedestrian Safety Campaign, a multimedia effort to reduce pedestrian crashes involving teens in the county. The campaign initially focused on Blair High School, where several pedestrian collisions had occurred over a two-year period and 39% involved people under 20 years old. The “Tired Faces” campaign includes photos of teenagers with tire marks painted on their faces and slogans such as “If You Text, You’re Next” and “Don’t Be Caught Dead Wearing Black.” More information about the program is available here.
Nadji’s presentation: Kirby_Montgomery SRTS Presentation
Using the Media to Promote Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety: Street Smart
Michael Farrell, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation Planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, presented on the Regional Street Smart Campaign, which aims to highlight pedestrian and bicycle safety problems and trends in the Greater Washington, DC region using mass media, public relations and enforcement. Pedestrian fatalities have increased nationally since 2009 and the DC metro region ranks 24th out of 51st for the number of pedestrian fatalities per capita. The proportion of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities is also increasing in the DC metro region and represents about one-fourth of all traffic fatalities. The campaign also utilizes the “Tired Faces” images and has put them on buses, gas pumps, radio and other places for the past few years. They have also done press events on several occasions. More information about the program is available here.
Michael’s presentation: Farrell_Street Smart Presentation
Starting Up A Safe Routes to School Program: Fairfax County
Fairfax County Public Schools launched their Safe Routes to School program in 2014, and Sally Smallwood, the district’s SRTS coordinator, discussed lessons learned from the past year. Sally had to work hard to make communities know she existed and what Safe Routes to School was all about. There are 139 elementary and 26 middle schools in the county, so it is a big lift to get to know everyone. Contacts were really important, and Sally spoke to many different groups including the PTAs, P.E. teachers, science teachers and parent liaisons. Some schools already had programs and she was able to tag along to their events. The traffic safety inspector was helpful in explaining the rules and regulations and why you can’t just paint a crosswalk and put in a crossing guard and make a road safe. Sally also reached out to fellow SRTS coordinators in other counties and visited schools with successful programs. Launching the countywide program took a lot of work but there are already signs of it being successful, including a record number of schools in Fairfax County participating in Walk to School Day this year. More information about the program is available here.
Sally’s presentation: Smallwood_Fairfax SRTS Presentation
The Evolution of a Longstanding Safe Routes to School Program: Washington, DC
Jennifer Hefferan from the District Department of Transportation discussed how DC’s Safe Routes to School program has evolved and changed over time. The program focuses on the Five “E”’s and creates Action Plans for schools around the District. Schools enroll in the Action Plans and no application is needed. In terms of encouragement, DDOT supports Walk to School Days, ABC’s of Family Bicycling and an annual Golden Bicycle Award. DDOT coordinates with public safety officials and crossing guards to ensure enforcement around schools. For engineering, DDOT has been really progressive about installing sidewalks near schools and has prioritized Safe Routes to School in the MoveDC plan, the city’s long-term transportation plan. For education, DDOT provides in-classroom safety trainings and just added new classes for parents to learn to bike with their children. Finally, the Action Plans include an evaluation component, which involved student travel tallies and a parent survey. More information on the program is available here.
Jennifer’s presentation: Hefferan_DC SRTS Presentation
Fire Up Your Feet: Encouraging Physical Activity Among Schoolchildren
Debbie Kilpatrick of the Virginia PTA and Ali Patty of Kaiser Permanente discussed the Fire Up Your Feet program, a core program of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership offering free resources, an online activity tracker, bi-annual Activity Challenges (in sponsored regions, including the Greater Washington, DC region), a school fundraising organizer and more, all aimed at increasing physical activity for grades K-8 nationally. Fire Up Your Feet is made possible in partnership with Kaiser Permanente and the National PTA as our family engagement partner. Local support is provided to schools in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland. More information on the program is available here.
Fire Up Your Feet presentation: FireUpYourFeet_SRTS Presentation
Overall, the annual Regional Meeting highlighted numerous success stories of Safe Routes to School initiatives in the Greater Washington, D.C. region and nationally. There are different approaches throughout the region, and many different actors and champions as well. It is clear that in order to keep the momentum going, we need to engage high-level officials at schools and transportation departments, who make the key decisions on funding and policy. We’ve done well as a region in highlighting pedestrian and bicycle safety through mass media, social media and events such as Walk to School Days, and these activities will see continued expansion.
Our real opportunity, however, is to change and institutionalize policies that promote walking and bicycling to and from schools and in the community, as well as to identify funding to expand the staffing capacity of Safe Routes to School initiatives. The 60-plus people who came to the Regional Meeting are our real champions, and we look to you to spread the message and create more Safe Routes to School advocates throughout the Greater Washington, DC region.
We hope to reconvene in 2015 and share more success stories about Safe Routes to School. Our survey is still open so please provide feedback to help up plan the next event: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/H3Z65DH
In the meantime, please share your progress, opportunities and challenges with the Regional Network!
Presentations and other materials from the meeting are available here.
A PDF version of this meeting summary is available here.
Regional Policy Manager
Safe Routes to School National Partnership