Executive Summary: The Case for Safe Routes in the Bay Area
In 1969, half of schoolchildren walked or bicycled to school each morning. But in the past 40 years, this rate has plummeted to lower than 15%. In some communities, as much as 20 to 30% of morning traffic is now generated by parents driving their children to schools. Transportation accounts for half of the Bay Area’s greenhouse gas emissions. There is also an epidemic of obesity among our young people who do not get regular exercise, leaving a greater proportion of Bay Area children overweight than the national average of 19%.
Parents who drive their children to school often cite fears about their children’s safety as a reason for driving instead of allowing them to walk or bicycle. Their concerns aren’t unfounded. Traffic-related crashes are the leading cause of death and major injury for children in the U.S. ages 1 to 17. It’s less safe to walk or bicycle in the Bay Area than in many other parts of the country—pedestrians and bicyclists represent nearly one-quarter of all traffic fatalities in the Bay Area, 50% more than the national average.
Schools, communities, and cities have, at times, attempted to address the intertwined issues of morning traffic congestion, physical safety, and access, yet solutions have generally been developed piecemeal, and have had limited success.
Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) is a comprehensive approach to these problems. SR2S combines established, tested methods to encourage schoolchildren to walk, bicycle, and carpool to school, and applies them all at once, in concert with each other. SR2S utilizes traffic engineering, safety education, bicycle and pedestrian encouragement programs, traffic law enforcement, and continual program evaluation. It also develops extensive partnerships by engaging students, parents, school faculty, police, city planners, and elected officials in a unified effort.
The accomplishments of the program are tremendous. Pioneered eight years ago in Marin County, SR2S programs across the country are:
- Reducing traffic congestion;
- Improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
- Creating streets and neighborhoods that encourage active transportation;
- Improving public safety; and
- Increasing physical activity for children and youth.
Based on this success, California and the federal government have funded grant programs to replicate Marin’s success. But, these grant programs are heavily oversubscribed.
Even despite these shortfalls, SR2S projects and programs are in some phase of development or planning in all nine counties in the Bay Area. But grant programs are so limited, that many of the top qualified projects have not been funded. Both state and federal SR2S programs strictly limit the amount of funding that goes to non-infrastructural education and encouragement activities.
TransForm estimates that investing in SR2S infrastructure, education, and encouragement projects region-wide would result in up to 110 million fewer miles traveled every year by Bay Area vehicles. SR2S may lead to further VMT reduction when parents who don’t have to chauffeur their kids to school can choose to leave their cars at home and take transit, bicycle, or walk to work.
To ensure schools across the region can implement SR2S, TransForm is recommending the Metropolitan Transportation Commission commit $10 million per year to fund a Bay Area Safe Routes to Schools grant program as part of the 2009 Regional Transportation Plan. MTC’s 2009 RTP has adopted ambitious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion, vehicle miles traveled, and increasing safety and affordability in the Bay Area’s transportation systems. There are few programs, if any, that can meet so many MTC regional objectives as Safe Routes to Schools.
 Safe Routes National Partnership, “What is Safe Routes to School?”
 California Highway Patrol. 2005. 2005 Annual Report of Fatal and Injury Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions, Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS). Bay Area pedestrian and cyclist fatality rates are at least partly attributable to the high rates of walking and bicycling in the region, which are higher than in most of the country.