The 6 E's

Flourishing Safe Routes to School projects see remarkable changes in the way students and parents choose to travel to and from school. These projects succeed by including each of the "Six E’s” of Safe Routes to School to ensure that their project is a well-rounded, multi-prong and time-tested approach to getting students safely walking and bicycling. The Six E’s of Safe Routes to School are:

EVALUATION

Long-term Safe Routes to School programs should kick-off with a thorough evaluation of the situation at the school or district. Armed with an accurate snapshot of the realities of student perception, concerns of parents, assessment of the physical environment around the school and a scan of the policies that may or may not support walking and bicycling. Advocates can begin to create a school travel plan that will best suit the individual needs of their unique situation. 

There are numerous methods for quickly collecting this information. Surveys of parents help to reveal why parents are driving their children to school instead of allowing them to walk or bicycle, and will provide insight into what changes might encourage a shift in their behavior. Student surveys elicit the attitudes of the youth, and help demonstrate how to craft a program that will be appealing to the younger generation.

It’s also important to know, before Safe Routes to School interventions begin, what percentages of students are walking, biking, taking the bus, being driven alone, and carpooling to school. Taking this baseline measurement will help you gauge the effects of the program on student travel choices. Student in-class travel tallies, including a record of the weather and time of year, should be taken throughout several days in September and May of each school year.

Evaluation data is key to determining the scope and the success of a Safe Routes to School program. The tools mentioned above are a great starting point to understanding travel choices at your school or district and provide the understanding and foundation for an effective, targeted Safe Routes to School program.

ENGINEERING

Often, during the evaluation process, survey data will indicate that there are significant concerns about the designs of streets, intersections, lack of sidewalks/crosswalks/signage or poorly timed traffic lights. Changes to the built environment through engineering improvements are a critical component of Safe Routes to School so most successful programs include a thorough community assessment of the barriers for children walking and bicycling to school.

Safe Routes to School programs often organize walking and bicycling audits so that parents can join city engineers and police officers in walking the routes to school and identifying everyday problems that children encounter, including complaints such as: it’s impossible to cross the street, the sidewalk ends, there is no bike trail, the cars go too fast, etc. These audits, sometimes referred to as “walk-a-bouts”, can also identify opportunities such as short-cuts and preferred routes that children could take to schools.

Through a community-wide approach to engineering, a wish list of capital improvements can be generated and separated into two categories: short-term improvements and long-term improvements. Short-term improvements such as landscaping maintenance, altering the timing of traffic lights, painting crosswalks or installing stop signs are immediate fixes which can be done on a small budget within a short time frame, often through the use of a city’s general funds. Long-term needs such as installing sidewalks, pathways, bridges and reconstructing intersections should be prioritized as part of the capital improvement plan for the city.

EDUCATION

A focus on education is always an important component for programs that seek to alter cultural norms. As Safe Routes to School is multi-disciplinary in nature, there are vast opportunities for educational outreach to students, parents, school staff and the community.

Many U.S. programs offer bicycle and pedestrian safety training in the classroom and in the field to teach children the basics associated with walking and bicycling with traffic. Young elementary school children (6-8 years old) are taught skills such as how to cross the street, not to dart in front of cars and how to look for cars when walking past driveways. When children reach the fourth and fifth grades (8-10 years old), they are often taught the basics of bicycling, including balancing, signaling, following traffic rules and how to properly wear a helmet. Police officers can be brought into schools to instruct children what to do when approached by a stranger, and many police officers will also help with traffic safety training.

Through educational programs, parents are asked to follow the rules of the road when they are driving, walking and bicycling. They are encouraged to practice walking and bicycling with their children, as traffic safety is learned behavior that can only be acquired through hands-on experiences. Additionally, driver safety campaigns can extend to high school students and to the entire community, so that everyone becomes aware of the fact that children are walking and bicycling and that sharing the road can be a matter of life or death.

ENCOURAGEMENT

Special events have been proven effective in inspiring students, parents, elected officials and school leaders to try something new, which often results in the development of ongoing programs to encourage walking and bicycling. Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day are some of the most popular events taking place at schools across the country each year. 

Contests, which can foster individual and classroom competition, also help to get kids out of cars and onto feet and bikes. The Fire Up Your Feet Activity Challenge, available in select states and regions, encourages families, students, and school staff to track their physical activity during a month-long Challenge each spring and fall. Schools can earn cash awards based on the percentage of particiapnts tracking their activity.

Other successful encouragement programs facilitate ways for parents to walk and bicycle with groups of children who live together in a neighborhood. Through the formation of“walking school buses” and “bike trains,” parents can take turns transporting groups of children eliminating many parental fears of walking and bicycling by ensuring a supervised commute and creating strong community cooperation.

ENFORCEMENT

Partner with local law enforcement to ensure that traffic laws are obeyed in the vicinity of schools (this includes enforcement of speeds, yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks and proper walking and bicycling behaviors) and initiating community enforcement such as crossing guard programs and student safety patrols. Enforcement increases awareness and reduces the frequency of crime and traffic safety problems. Examples include enforcing traffic violations, enforcing pick-up and drop-off procedures, addressing environmental concerns such as abandoned houses, litter and dogs, and creating neighborhood watch programs.

Equity

Work to support safe, active, and healthy opportunities for children and adults in low-income communities, communities of color, and beyond.  Incorporate equity concerns throughout the other E’s to understand and address obstacles, create access, and ensure safe and equitable outcomes.