Safe Routes to School in Columbus, Ohio started in the mid-2000s as a cooperative effort that spoke to public health, the Department of Public Services, and the Safe Walks program, involving Safe Routes to School travel plans for a school or a group of a few schools. These efforts brought about mobility studies for a few different neighborhoods. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) funded SRTS projects at individual schools, but they were also receiving a lot of applications for larger school districts.
Columbus took note and in 2011 started work on a travel plan for the entire Columbus school district. After it was finished, the implementation process began using health impact assessments (HIA) as a tool to pick out focus schools. Since Columbus is a large district with many schools, they chose a handful where they could focus both programmatic and infrastructure efforts while coordinating with the Public Service Department. They received infrastructure and non-infrastructure SRTS funding, that was supported by a small amount of city dollars as well. To date, the program is still funded through ODOT, but now general funding is available through the city for a SRTS Coordinator to implement the city travel plan. Now that there is grant money specifically for programming, a huge door has been opened to broaden the impact of SRTS in Columbus.
One example of this is how they were able to significantly expand efforts to partner with a new local community initiative. The YMCA of Central Ohio Americorps program, Community Corps Linden, has integrated SRTS in its current efforts. The program recruits 10 to 15 people, aged 17-24, to work a minimum of 900 hours inside schools, including physical activity breaks and spring beautification projects at elementary schools. Every two weeks they receive a stipend, and if they complete the whole program they can receive $2,000 in educational funding as well. SRTS in Columbus is excited at the potential for future partnerships and other opportunities that can integrate SRTS into programming in community based organizations in a similar fashion.
Naturally, a few challenges have presented themselves along the way. Since Columbus is a large district, they have had to make sure that while extending their reach as far as possible, they don’t go so far that they lose effectiveness. Additionally, with so many schools, it is important to keep in mind that each school has some autonomy in communications and it can take time to build relationships and get people on board.
Columbus is a rapidly developing area. Unfortunately, disparity has grown along with it, bringing about a more transient population to serve within the schools as families move to more affordable housing. This economic development has provided many opportunities for growth for SRTS too though. As more people move into the older city, many of these neighborhoods have been revitalized. Denser populations have ushered in more chances for children to walk and bike to school!
SRTS has worked its way into the community of Columbus. From parents to local community organizations, there are so many ways to integrate Safe Routes to School into what people are already doing. Whether at a field day or through a YMCA program improving the community, SRTS has show how it can work on so many levels.