Advocacy Update: Safe Routes to Schools in the Balance

As the new federal transportation bill, MAP-21, comes to life on October 1, the next two weeks are pivotal for Washington as Governor Gregoire will decide whether Safe Routes to Schools will receive direct federal investments to make it safer to walk and bike to school. /Mike Cynecki

In June we announced that a new federal transportation bill was poised to slash funding for projects that grow bicycling statewide and give kids the freedom to walk and bike to school. Since then Washington Bikes has worked with local, state, and national partners to develop a strategy ensure that freedom with improved streets and crossings, options for physical activity, and tools and knowledge to safely walk and bike.

To recap, the new federal bill, or Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) as its authors call it, diminishes direct funding for walking and biking by a minimum of 35%. Unfortunately, those cuts could skyrocket to 70%, if Governor Gregoire chooses to divert federal funds to other transportation projects.

The funding stream most vulnerable to these cuts? Safe Routes to School.

Since the state began an innovative Safe Routes to School pilot project in 2004, Washington schools afforded these opportunities have seen a 34% increase in safe walking and biking to schools, better student compliance with safe crossing behaviors, more choices for healthy living, and no collisions occurring at completed project locations. In Washington, reducing bicycle and pedestrian fatalities just 5% per year over the next 10 years, consistent with our state’s adopted goal, will save us over $130 million.

If Governor Gregoire chooses to deplete Safe Routes to School investments by shifting previously allocated federal funds elsewhere, it would damage the state’s long-term commitment to walking and biking made at the start of her administration. Such a reversal could cut the state Safe Routes to School coordinator position, reduce the geographic equity in funding for this popular program, and would stymie the state legislature’s recent effort to grow Safe Routes to School funding in 2012.

To respond to reductions in Safe Routes to School, the Bicycle Alliance has mobilized to ensure Washington keeps making these critical investments. We serve as the Washington state coordinator on the Alliance for Biking and Walking and League of American Bicyclists efforts’ to maintain funding. We’re working with our friends on the Transportation for Washington Campaign to coordinate and make recommendations as Governor Gregoire moves to decide the future of Safe Routes to School in Washington. Similarly, we’re collaborating with our friends at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership on fact finding and information sharing to learn best practices and how other states are combating the threats to diminished Safe Routes to School funding.

This morning in Olympia the Bicycle Alliance and our partners under the Transportation for Washington banner, including Transportation Choices Coalition, Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition, and Feet First attended the first of two steering committee meetings meant to provide the Governor recommendations for how to allocate MAP-21 dollars.

At today’s meeting, we offered our simple but compelling proposal to retain statewide funding for Safe Routes to Schools by using a small portion of new road safety funding, which doubles under MAP-21. This is an approach that California and Florida are taking to maintain their commitments to Safe Routes to School. This proposal to support Safe Routes to School meshes with what is contained in Washington’s own strategic highway safety plan for reducing pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

Bicycle Alliance Board member King Cushman gave compelling remarks to steering committee members on the state of safety for Washington roads. Walking constitutes the third leading cause for death for Washington kids, but cost-effective safety improvements and educational programming for safety, such as what Safe Routes to School provides can make all the difference to improve safety on our roads.

We heard other compelling reasons to support the proposal that we have made to the Governor to save federal Safe Routes to School funding and it’s clear from remarks made by many steering committee members that safer routes for kids are important to them, too.

The second and final steering committee meeting will be held next week and we’ll again be there to work with our partners to make our case for continued Safe Routes to School. The Governor will make her decision on MAP-21 allocations by October 1.

Want to help? Email Governor Gregoire now to keep Washington moving forward in its progress for Safe Routes to School and keep in touch by signing up to Washington Bikes action alerts for news and next steps about protecting Safe Routes to School.

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