In 2009, 50 communities across the country were selected to participate in Communities Putting Prevention to Work , a federal stimulus-funded project that worked at the county-level to increase opportunities for healthy eating and active living through policy, systems and environmental changes. Many of these communities adopted Safe Routes to School as an overall strategy to increase physical activity and spent the duration of the project pursuing opportunities to institutionalize policies, systems and environmental changes that would support walking and bicycling to school and in daily life. The efforts and successes of five of these communities are highlighted in this report published by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.
The report finds that while communities across the country are on the front lines in the battle against the childhood obesity epidemic, this public health crisis can be solved partly through raised awareness, informed policies, and implementation of targeted programs and practices within school communities. Furthermore, schools are in a prime position to influence the health behaviors of children and adolescents, because no other institution has as much continuous and intensive contact with young people.
The report notes that the funding has had a big impact on increasing physical activity through its SRTS efforts by bringing attention to the important benefits of walking and bicycling to school and in daily life. Lessons learned from the successful projects include:
- Build a task force and break down silos. Communities should build a task force made up of all currently relevant and future relevant stakeholders from the department of transportation, parks and recreation, state and local health departments, public works, local council of governments, school districts, nonprofits, religious leaders, local officials, bike-ped groups, etc. Constant communication between groups was key.
- Evaluate. The report stresses the importance of walkability audits, student tallies, parent surveys, and larger-scale community assessments in crafting a Community Action Plan.
- Create a Community Action Plan. Identify measurable and attainable goals and objectives for your project.
- Work with the Media. Each community had a media expert who managed all things realted to common project language as well as print and video materials. This required designing media campaigns as well as working with media outlets and using social media to publicize successes.
- Plan for Sustainability. Programs that have continued to thrive planned ahead by identifying strategies to leverage funds to increase impact and synergy between programs and initiatives with their partners.
Interested in starting up a Safe Routes to School program in your community? Greater Mercer TMA is your local Safe Routes to School partner.
New Jersey’s Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is part of a nationwide effort to help solve these problems in the United States, and to make walking and bicycling to school safe and appealing. Greater Mercer TMA is working with schools and communities to help implement SRTS programs to examine conditions around schools and create activities to improve safety and accessibility, reduce traffic and air pollution around schools, and make bicycling and walking to school safer and more appealing, thus encouraging a healthy active lifestyle for kids.
SRTS programs bring a wide range of benefits to students and the community, including:
- increasing the health, mobility, and independence of school-age children,
- reducing congestion, air pollution and traffic conflicts around schools,
- helping students arrive at school ready to learn, and
- teaching safe pedestrian and bicyclist skills
GMTMA is the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s designated SRTS coordinator for Mercer and Ocean counties. At no cost, GMTMA can help your school and community implement a SRTS program by helping you with the following SRTS elements:
- Document existing conditions
- Identify assets, barriers, goals and actions
- Outline responsibilities and funding sources
Bike/Walk Events & Education Assistance
- Walking School Buses
- Bike Rodeos
- Safety education and “How To” teaching materials
Evaluation and Monitoring
- Establish baseline of existing conditions
- Student arrival/departure counts
- Parent/Caregiver surveys
- Measure progress and adjust program as needed
SRTS Infrastructure Program
NJDOT offers local governments and schools a grant program for the planning and implementation of pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure projects near schools. This is a highly competitive program and communities who participate in non-infrastructure programs and activities, such as SRTS Travel Plans, School Wellness programs and school walk/bike activities may receive extra points on their grant applications.
Want to learn more about how GMTMA can help you get an SRTS program started in your community? Contact Rebecca Hersh at firstname.lastname@example.org.