[Guest Post] Safe Routes to School Program: Coming Soon to Oak Hill
Angie Stenson is the Senior Transportation Planner at the St. Cloud Area Planning Organization (APO). The APO is the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the St. Cloud area and conducts transportation planning activities for all modes including transit, bicycle, and pedestrian. Ms. Stenson graduated from the University of Illinois with a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning and is an alumna of North Dakota State University. She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).
On May 9, 2012 MnDOT announced Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant recipients of federal funds totaling $768,000. The program will support 92 Minnesota schools, funding non-infrastructure and planning activities. Oak Hill Community School in St. Cloud is among the awardees. Oak Hill is one of 70 schools in 35 communities statewide to receive support for completion of a SRTS plan. The planning assistance grant will help the school gather information on existing conditions, gather public input, and identify potential infrastructure and non-infrastructure solutions to promote bicycling and walking to school.
Safe Routes to School is a program created through federal legislation in the 2005 federal transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU). The main purpose of the program is to increase opportunities for children to safely walk and bicycle to school. It also seeks to address the current social issue of childhood obesity and inactivity. In addition, SRTS can lead to community benefits such as decreases in traffic congestion issues and motor vehicle emissions.
At the core of SRTS are the 5 E’s: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation. This promotes a balanced approach to the implementation of the program. This funding cycle included solicitation for non-infrastructure and planning funds only, meaning no infrastructure projects were awarded. Since 2005, however, the majority of funding, $9.9 million, has been awarded for infrastructure projects.
Non-infrastructure and planning activities are a vital part of the SRTS program as a whole. The importance of the new, concrete sidewalk or the smooth, asphalt multi-use path installation is visibly understood by most, but the underlying factors of education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation can be more difficult to validate. This funding cycle MnDOT allocated funding for planning assistance as well as non-infrastructure projects including walking and bicycling maps, support for crossing guard programs, bicycle safety programs (during and after school), and various encouragement activities such as a “Walking School Bus”. These programs are activity based and go hand-in-hand with the development of new infrastructure.
In the case of Oak Hill, the planning process is valuable because no clear, common-sense solution directly addresses the primary goal of increasing opportunities for children to safely walk and bicycle to the school. Existing conditions, opportunities, and scenarios will be explored through the combination of community input and technical expertise (SRTS grant). The objective of the process will be to provide a plan for pedestrian infrastructure improvements in and around the school, and it will stress ways to bolster bicycle and pedestrian safety education as well as encouragement programs. If you are a parent or staff member at Oak Hill, look for opportunities to get involved in the SRTS planning beginning this fall.
Do you have an interest in bicycle and pedestrian issues beyond the SRTS program? The St. Cloud Area Planning Organization (APO) has a venue for you to share your ideas or concerns. The APO Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee consists of community members and officials who meet to discuss relevant and ongoing bicycle and pedestrian topics in the metropolitan area. Please contact me if you would like more information.