The clock is ticking on the Governor’s Active Transportation Program proposal, which must be adopted by the Legislature by August 31. Inaction puts $134 million in annual funding for walking and biking improvements at risk – critical dollars that support Safe Routes to School projects, bicycle infrastructure, and other initiatives that make walking and biking safer and easier for Californians.
So today’s advocacy day, which caps off this week’s national Safe Routes to School conference in Sacramento, is particularly timely. Dozens of teachers, students, and parents from around California will meet with legislators to discuss the importance of Safe Routes to School in their communities and the urgency of keeping the funding flowing for crosswalks, traffic signals, and other safety improvements that can bridge huge gaps in safety for students who walk or bike to school.
According to the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, in 2009, approximately 23,000 children ages 5–15 were injured and more than 250 were killed while walking or bicycling in the United States. These victims include 11-year-old Alana Williams, who was struck by a hit-and-run driver while in a crosswalk as she crossed the street from the bus stop to her middle school in Oakland. Parents and neighbors fought to install a traffic signal at the intersection, which traverses a busy road. The signal was installed a year later and dedicated to Alana with the hope that no other student would suffer from a similar tragedy.
This worst-case scenario keeps many families from even attempting to get to school on foot or bike, despite the high cost of driving to health, household budgets, and the environment. Safe Routes to School programs help communities assess school and neighborhood safety with “walk audits” and other tools, then install safety improvements like traffic signals, bike lanes, and flashing beacons where they’re needed most. This strategy improves safety for kids who already walk and bike to school, and also helps convince new families to give healthy, active transportation a chance by providing better ways to walk and roll to school.
However, the funds to complete these projects are currently on hold until the Active Transportation Program is refined and enacted by the Legislature. If the Legislature fails to pass a bill by the end of the month, walking and biking funds will remain frozen. Today, advocates will work together to explain to their elected representatives why this money is so very important to our children’s future.