Making the Walking and Bicycling Trip to School Safer
The Safe Routes to School movement is increasing the number of children walking and bicycling in neighborhoods while improving personal safety, but many parents are still too worried about the personal safety of their children to allow them to walk or bicycle to school. Fears of street crime, gangs, dogs, pedophiles, busy, speeding traffic, and bullying can all contribute to the reduction of walking and bicycling on neighborhoods sidewalks, streets and in parks. And although overall violent crime rates in the US have been dropping steadily since 1991 and the chance of stranger abduction is extremely low, these fears tend to rank the highest among parents and community leaders when surveyed.
Safe Routes to School programs cannot independently solve complex crime and related issues in neighborhoods, but a lot can be done through SRTS programs and projects to improve personal safety. Some techniques include adult-led walking and bicycling ‘school buses’ (groups of children walking to school under the supervision of adult volunteers), corner captains (adults posted on street corners), safe houses (places where children can avoid bullies or gangs or wait for the walking school bus), adult crossing guards and student safety patrols, education and promotion programs, and traffic calming engineering interventions. Building relationships at the state and local level with law enforcement agencies and community organizations that specialize in personal safety can contribute to policy change and help to supplement SRTS program safety efforts. Local police officers, especially school resource and community police officers, know the realities of the neighborhoods around schools, and may have resources and ideas to reduce crime and improve driver behaviors.
- Partner with law enforcement agencies, decision makers and related organizations: There are numerous state associations of law enforcement agencies and organizations, including sheriffs, highway patrol, police chiefs, school resource officers, and more. Inviting enforcement and safety professionals into conversations about Safe Routes to School, walking, bicycling and personal safety can lead to effective partnerships, leveraged resources, and new or improved enforcement initiatives at the local level.
- Partner with other advocacy groups and programs: Senior, neighborhood revitalization, anti-bullying, community development, faith-based, smart growth and other community groups can also partner with law enforcement and SRTS advocates to promote SRTS programs and projects to their networks and the public, and to change policies at the state or local level that can increase personal safety, especially in low-income communities.
- Graffiti abatement: Graffiti can instill fear of crime among parents and students, reducing their willingness to walk or bicycle on neighborhood streets. The assumption is that if graffiti exists, then so does the lack of enforcement and tolerance of street crime. Many policy departments already have graffiti abatement programs, and public works departments generally have the resources to paint over graffiti and replace signs that have been defaced.
- Stray dogs: Some communities report that stray dogs are a major issue for the safety of children who are walking or bicycling. A barking or growling dog on a sidewalk can be extremely scary or dangerous for a young child. The advent of dogs bred and/or trained for fighting has increased the number of aggressive strays, especially in inner city and rural areas. Neighbors can work with SRTS programs to report stray dogs to police or animal control officers in their community, which may even lead to the dog(s) being removed from their owner’s custody if there is a threat to the community.
- Cleaning up abandoned houses: Neglected and poorly maintained properties are breeding grounds for criminal activity. Regular maintenance helps to preserve property values and make the neighborhood a safer place. SRTS programs can work with neighborhood organizations and policy makers to get home owners such as landlords, developers and banks to improve, maintain or sell unoccupied houses.
- Safety in numbers: Safe Routes to School programs increase the number of responsible neighbors, parents and volunteers watching over the wellbeing of children in neighborhoods, especially with walking school buses, bike trains and other program elements that get more people out onto sidewalks and low-traffic streets. By increasing the number of eyes and ears on these walking and bicycling routes, the prevalence of criminal activities can be drastically reduced, especially during school hours.
- Traffic calming: Engineering design that calms traffic, fines that reduce traffic speeds, reducing traffic congestion around schools, decreasing speed limits near schools, and traffic enforcement that encourages good driver behavior, are all ways to improve traffic safety for children walking and bicycling to school.
- Implementing state laws designed to improve traffic safety: Vulnerable users laws (specific legal protection for bicyclists, pedestrians and other users to prevent crashes and deaths from motor vehicles), three-foot passing laws (requiring three feet between motor vehicles and the bicyclists they are passing), speed limits and speeding laws, pedestrian right-of-way laws, distracted and drunk drivers laws, and many others can contribute to calmer traffic and better driver behaviors. Getting these laws implemented at the state or local level can go a long way to improving safety for children walking and bicycling.
- Transportation infrastructure that supports safe walking and bicycling: Complete Streets policies, Safe Routes to School projects and funding, state and federal funding such as the Highway Safety Improvement Program, Transportation Enhancements and other traffic safety programs, all contribute to a safer, more appealing walking and bicycling environment.
- Improving road users knowledge: Children (and their parents) need to know how to negotiate traffic and travel safely through their neighborhoods. Bicycle and pedestrian safety education in schools, safety skills clinics, proper helmet usage, bicycle and walking information in motor vehicle licensing and drivers education classes, and other approaches such as Take 25 and SafeKids promotional initiatives can improve safety.
- Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED): is a multi-disciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior through environmental design. CPTED strategies rely upon the ability to influence offender decisions that precede criminal acts. Crime prevention through environmental design can include transportation corridors and buildings, including schools. CPTED provides an approach to designing safer communities by reducing opportunities for crime that may be inherent in the design of structures or in the design of neighborhoods. If the environment is planned, designed and managed properly through policies and practices, certain types of crimes may be reduced and quality of life improves. Walkways and other pavement treatments, fences, lighting, signage and landscaping can direct the flow of people while decreasing the opportunity for crime, increase visibility, and enable users of an area to develop a sense of proprietorship over it, creating a perception of community control and thereby discouraging criminal behavior.
- Take 25 - Take 25 is a preventive child safety campaign created by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Potential risks children face throughout their lives can be lessened when parents and guardians teach safety concepts. While it may not be possible for parents and guardians to be with their children every minute of the day, they can spend time talking, setting appropriate limits, and helping them make good choices.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – NHTSA has launched a new web based resource for law enforcement officers, Safe Routes to School for Law Enforcement, to give law enforcement professionals information about the Safe Routes to School program so that they will be aided in supporting local SRTS programs in their communities. Targets include law enforcement executives, school resources officers, bicycle officers, community policing officers, and training officers.
- Center for Problem-Oriented Policing - Problem-oriented policing places a high value on new responses that are preventive in nature, that are not dependent on the use of the criminal justice system, and that engage other public agencies, the community and the private sector when their involvement has the potential for significantly contributing to the reduction of the problem.
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, supports states, local communities, and tribal jurisdictions in their efforts to develop and implement programs for juveniles, including the Crimes Against Children Research Center, the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children, and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.