Florida Safe Routes To School Uf Center For Health & The Built Environment

Safe Routes Technical Assistance

Contents

What is Florida’s Safe Routes to School Program?
What are the Benefits of Safe Routes to School programs?
Are Safe Routes to School Programs Right for Rural Communities?
Program Background and Mission
About Florida’s Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Funding
Qualifying for Free Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Funding Technical Assistance
Technical Assistance Services
Contact/Request Assistance
References


What is Florida’s Safe Routes to School Program?

In 1969, nearly half of all students in the United States walked or rode a bicycle to school. By 2009, that number had dropped to fewer than 15 percent of all school trips. Beside decreased physical activity, traffic, air quality, and bicycle and pedestrian safety have all been adversely affected by this decline1. Safe Routes to School is a growing movement that has taken hold in communities throughout the United States in order to remedy these issues and increase the number of children who walk or bicycle to school by funding projects that remove the barriers currently preventing them from doing so. Those barriers include lack of infrastructure, unsafe infrastructure, and a lack of programs that promote walking and bicycling through education/encouragement programs aimed at children, parents, and other community members.

What are the Benefits of Safe Routes to School programs?

Walking or biking to school gives students a sense of freedom and responsibility, allows them to enjoy the fresh air and provides opportunities to get to know their neighborhood while arriving at school alert, refreshed, and ready to start their day. With increasingly sedentary lifestyles, Safe Routes programs also provide valuable opportunities to increase physical activity and instill lifelong healthy habits in primary and secondary school students. Some evidence even suggests that students who walk or bicycle to school are more attentive and perform better in class2. By increasing the number of students who arrive to school on foot or by bike, Safe Routes improvements can also help decrease traffic congestion and air pollution in the vicinity of schools. Further, Safe Routes infrastructure investments often help connect and extend existing bicycle and pedestrian networks, benefiting not just students, but entire communities.

Are Safe Routes to School Programs Right for Rural Communities?

In many cases, yes! Despite the unique set of challenges encountered in rural areas, Safe Routes to School success stories can be found in rural communities throughout the United States. In fact, surveys have found that nine out of ten rural Americans believe pedestrian-friendly communities are important and want to see their communities do more to support walking3. Contrary to perceptions that rural communities have fewer traffic concerns and greater access to open space than their urban counterparts, roadway conditions and other environmental factors in these areas often create disproportionate safety hazards and barriers to physical activity4. While these factors are not necessarily the sole obstacles to active travel for rural students, investments in infrastructure to support safe walking and bicycling to school are a crucial first step. When rural schools and communities support Safe Routes programs, they can often leverage their unique strengths — these include tightknit social bonds and resourceful school/agency staff — to help fast track Safe Routes improvements and make their communities more welcoming places for active travel.

Program Background and Mission

While Florida piloted their own version of the Safe Routes to School program in the 1990s, called Safe Ways to School, and state efforts have been ongoing since the federal Safe Routes to School program was established in 2005, this program has often been more easily accessed by urban communities. However, many of Florida’s rural communities have considerable need for Safe Routes to School programs. Recognizing shortages of Safe Routes programs in rural areas, and substantial opportunities to improve walking and bicycling to school in rural communities, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) hired a project team led by Dr. Ruth Steiner, a Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Director of the Center for Health and the Built Environment at the University of Florida. Dr. Steiner helped create the state’s original Safe Ways to School “Tool Kit” in the 1990s, which the project team is currently updating, and has over two decades’ experience researching Safe Routes to School programs.

With the Safe Routes to School Technical Assistance project, the Center for Health and the Built Environment project team’s mission is to help more of the state’s rural communities qualify for Florida Department of Transportation Infrastructure Application awards by providing free technical assistance and expertise. In May of 2016, the project team began the pilot phase of this project. This phase involved a thorough review of national best practices, and testing and refinement of technical assistance methods to best fit the needs of rural Florida communities. The pilot phase culminated in the publication of a technical report and the submission of a Safe Routes infrastructure grant application to provide sidewalk extensions, lighting improvements, bike racks, enhanced pedestrian signage and crosswalks to support safe walking and bicycling to school for students in the rural North Central Florida town of Hawthorne. The project team is currently recruiting rural communities throughout the state for support and development of Safe Routes to School infrastructure grant proposals.

About Florida Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Funding

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) encourages all communities with Safe Routes to School infrastructure projects to submit a Florida Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Application. These grant applications can be initiated by schools, school boards, or local governments. Applications for the current grant cycle are due on December 31, 2017. This program is 100 percent funded, and is managed through FDOT on a cost-reimbursement basis. Applications are submitted to the local FDOT District Safe Routes to School Coordinator.

Applicants should expect to initiate this process well ahead of the due date, as the applications require significant planning and preparation. In addition to providing cost estimates, sponsoring agencies who are applying must demonstrate they have undertaken a public engagement process and that they have the support of schools whose students will be affected by the proposed infrastructure projects. Further, all applicants are required to attend one of FDOT’s regional Safe Routes to School Application Workshops prior to submitting a grant application.

Qualifying for Free Safe Routes to School Infrastructure Funding Technical Assistance

While applying for an FDOT Safe Routes to School infrastructure grant can be challenging for resource-strapped rural communities, the good news is that UF’s Center for Health and the Built Environment may be able to help. The highest priority for technical assistance will be given to rural communities that have established Safe Routes project proposals and/or those who have been designated Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) Eligible Counties and Communities. However, all rural communities interested in applying for a Safe Routes infrastructure grant are encouraged to contact the project team to learn whether technical assistance is available.

Technical Assistance Services

Recruitment for the second phase of the Safe Routes to School Technical Assistance project is currently underway. Across the state, selected rural schools and communities will be given technical assistance on how to engage their community to create support for the Safe Routes project; implement the school site assessment and data collection methodologies; and prepare an application for a Safe Routes infrastructure grant. In the pilot phase of the project, services provided included public engagement assistance; site mapping and audits; student and parent surveys; estimations of affected students; engineering cost estimate quality assurance; and other application assistance.

When considering Safe Routes to School infrastructure improvements, every community’s needs are unique. While resources are limited, UF’s Center for Health and the Built Environment will adapt their services to meet the needs of selected schools and communities to ensure the best outcomes.

Contact/Request Assistance

If you are a school or government employee serving a rural area of Florida, or a resident of a rural Florida community, and are interested in receiving Safe Routes to School technical assistance, or would like assistance developing a Safe Routes to School infrastructure project, please fill out the following survey.

Florida Safe Routes to School Technical Assistance Survey

Once the survey has been submitted, a member of the project team will contact you within 2 – 3 business days to arrange a follow up consultation and discuss next steps. For general inquiries, email safe.routes@dcp.ufl.edu.


References

1 McDonald, Noreen C., Ruth L. Steiner, Chanam Lee, Tori Rhoulac Smith, Xuemei Zhu, and Yizhao Yang. “Impact of the safe routes to school program on walking and bicycling.” Journal of the American Planning Association 80, no. 2 (2014): 153-167.

2 “On the Move: Safe Routes to School Policies in Rural School Districts.” CA4Health. Accessed July 9, 2017, http://www.changelabsolutions.org/sites/default/files/SRTS-Policies-Rural_School_Districts-FINAL_20140611.pdf

3 “Rural Communities: Making Safe Routes Work.” Safe Routes to School National Partnerhsip. Accessed July 9, 2017, http://saferoutespartnership.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Lib_of_Res/SR2S_Rural_making%20SR%20work_20150331.pdf

4 Yousefian, Anush, Erika Ziller, Jon Swartz, and David Hartley. “Active living for rural youth: addressing physical inactivity in rural communities.” Journal of Public Health Management and Practice 15, no. 3 (2009): 223-231.