$1B This Year for New Roadway Safety Program – How Can Safe Routes to School Get Involved?

USDOT is competing out $1 billion in funding to support communities to plan for and implement strategies that reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries, and it is an opportunity to elevate or re-invigorate Safe Routes to School in your community! With $1B in federal funds available to communities, Safe Routes to School practitioners can collaborate with community leaders to make sure Safe Routes to School is part of the solution to reduce traffic injuries and deaths.

In our coverage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we highlighted that Congress created two new programs that we are excited about: the Safe Streets and Roads for All program and the Reconnecting Communities program. The US Department of Transportation recently released the “notices of funding opportunities” (NOFOs) for these competitive grant programs, which means the application periods are open! In this post, we provide information on Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) and the opportunity for Safe Routes to School.

Snapshot of SS4A: Think of this as a federal Vision Zero program. Its goal is to support local communities to improve roadway safety by developing comprehensive safety action plans and implementing strategies that reduce and eliminate roadway fatalities and serious injuries. With $1 billion in annual funding for fiscal years 2022-2026 (plus the potential for another billion pending Congressional appropriations), this program is intended to support local governments, metropolitan planning organizations, tribal governments, and/or other political subdivisions of a state to plan for and implement strategies to work toward zero traffic deaths. There are funds available for two activities: action planning grants and implementation grants.

Opportunity for Safe Routes to School: With $1 billion flowing to communities across the country to improve traffic safety, the action plans and strategies developed through this program have the potential to chart a new course for roadway safety. Safe Routes to School practitioners and advocates should collaborate with community leaders to make sure Safe Routes to School is included in comprehensive safety action plans and implementation plans.

Research shows that Safe Routes to School is an effective strategy to increase walking and reduce risks for traffic-related injuries. As communities plan for and roll out improvements to slow traffic speeds, improve community mobility, and make it safer for people to travel around their communities, it’s essential that these plans consider how young people who rely on walking, bicycling, and transit access essential community destinations, like schools. SS4A can elevate or re-invigorate your community’s commitment to keeping kids safe as they walk and bike throughout their communities.

If your community is developing an action plan, make sure it includes Safe Routes to School! If your community has a comprehensive safety action plan, work with local leaders so the implementation plan is inclusive of (and prioritizes) the safety of young people walking, biking, and taking transit to schools, parks, and other important community destinations. Ask your local government, MPO, or tribal government if they are considering applying for SS4A, and share the benefits of including Safe Routes to School as a strategy to reduce traffic deaths.

Here are some ideas for how Safe Streets and Roads for All can benefit from including Safe Routes to School:

  • Safe Routes to School practitioners have experience with increasing rates of walking and biking while also increasing safety of those travel modes. Research shows that Safe Routes to School works to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries for youth.
  • Safe Routes to School programs involve caregivers, parents, and young people, who can tell compelling stories about safety challenges they face on the way to school and in everyday life, which can provide valuable input in the action planning process.
  • Safe Routes to School programs have – or can gather - information about where kids and families avoid walking due to dangers, which would not show up in data assessments solely focused on crashes if no one is walking there, along with maps from walk audits showing where families would like to walk if it was safe.
  • Safe Routes to School practitioners can encourage the action planning process to analyze data on injuries and fatalities by age, location, and travel mode to ensure the safety risks to young people are included in planning for and prioritizing roadway safety improvements.
  • Safe Routes to School practitioners can push for the action planning process to include an examination of when collisions involve children and to include locations of schools, parks, and other key destinations for families.
  • As part of the action planning process, Safe Routes to School practitioners can encourage that traffic safety data are gathered and analyzed specifically for all schools in the community to identify those with the greatest safety risks.
  • When it comes to implementing traffic calming and other traffic safety improvements, making improvements around schools is an effective way to introduce these interventions while minimizing potential community pushback. Focusing on the imperative to keep kids safe from traffic danger helps quell the resistance to change.

A note on action plan development: This year, 40 percent of the funding is intended to support planning, so if your community has wanted to develop an action plan focused on reducing traffic deaths and injuries, this is a great year to apply for an action planning grant.

A note on enforcement as part of Safe Streets for All: For implementation grants, we highly encourage communities to focus on engineering streets to be safer for all road users with a focus on vulnerable road users. As Vision Zero gained traction in the United States, we often heard from communities that they relied on enforcing traffic laws to meet Vision Zero goals because making all necessary infrastructure improvements was too costly. This grant program affords the opportunity to make those engineering improvements! While the SS4A program allows funding for traffic enforcement, we highly encourage communities to use these funds to make engineering improvements that are effective at slowing traffic and improving safety.

The SS4A application is open until September 15, 2022. For more information on the funding opportunity and application process visit https://www.transportation.gov/grants/SS4A.

Questions? Reach out at info@saferoutespartnership.org.