Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programming is gaining traction across the country largely as a result of national trends in health, safety, the environment and land use. Originating in Denmark in the 1970’s, Safe Routes to School programming was developed to curb climbing pedestrian crash rates. The program reached the United States in 1997 when The Bronx, NY received local funds to implement a SRTS program to reduce the number of child crash and fatalities near schools. One year later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) funded two pilot projects, and by 2005 Congress had allocated $612 million among all fifty states. Portage County was awarded a planning grant from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) in 2010 to prepare this plan as a component of a larger, countywide bicycle and pedestrian planning process.
Nationally, there are more parents driving their children to school today than ever before, and this increases the amount of traffic congestion and air pollution around school sites. Childhood obesity rates are similarly on the rise. From 1963-2004 the prevalence of obesity among children has tripled. Similarly, participation in organized physical activity during non-school hours has decreased, and most children are not getting the 60 minutes of physical activity per day recommended by experts.
Fewer children walk and bicycle to school. Many school officials, health advocates and transportation professional feel that increasing walking and biking to school can positively contribute to the well-being of children and reverse recent trends. SRTS programs are sustained efforts to the health and safety of children through the application of “the Five E’s”. These include Education, Encouragement, Engineering, Enforcement and Evaluation. The SRTS plan includes recommendations from each of these five core areas.
Preparation of this plan was conducted concurrently with the Portage County Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, and included review of present policies and conditions as well as a biking and walking audit for each school and school neighborhood; a review of best practices being utilized to foster safe routes to school in other communities; and the preparation of recommendations and an action plan for each school in the county as well as many neighborhoods throughout the county.