SRTS National Conference- Top Ten Takeaway

A couple weeks ago I attended the 3rd Annual Safe Routes to School National Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I got to present our program as well as Kidical Mass but the best part was definitely the inspiration and energy gained from what is happening around the country with Safe Routes to School. The mood was a bit different from the conference that happened two years ago in Portland. At that time the Federal Transportation Bill was still “just around the corner” for renewal and there was a lot of excitement for the potential for SRTS. The question asked then was “how much for Safe Routes”? Will it be at the same amount or ten times the original program?  At this years conference, as we STILL wait for a new transportation bill, the question was more like “what about Safe Routes, will we even be in the next transportation bill”?

At the same time there was a whole new energy to the conference as a wide array of people working on Safe Routes projects around the country were sharing their success stories. There were health care providers, business people, teachers, transportation engineers, DOT leaders, political leaders, community leaders, parents and youth all engaged and excited to be getting more kids walking and biking to school.  There was a lot of networking and sharing that went on and after gathering my thoughts here are my top ten takeaways from the conference:

1. Youth Engagement

I’ve alway known how important youth engagement was and have tried to make that a part of our Safe Routes to School program. One of my favorite programs I’ve gotten to work with is the DesignBridge project out of the UO Architecture School. The UO students come in and work with our students to design AND build a bike parking structure at the school.

At the conference I heard about some other great programs going on around the country that actually have youth advocates engaged at many different levels. One of the best pieces from one session I went to was the “Youth Empowerment Ladder” (see graphic).  I’d say our program is just onto rung 4 with some activities on rung 5. Aways to go. Anyone want to help me get us up to Rung 8?!

The final session of the conference also included the most inspiring speaker, Kimberly White, an 18 year old Brooklyn student talking about how cycling changed her life. Read more about that speech on the dc.streetsblog.org. Here’s a quote from her speech about empowering youth: “…it’s important to note that the inter-generational exchange goes both ways… Every generation of young people has been discriminated against by older people and their peers… We should hold young people to a higher standard, because young people — myself included — are ready to change the status quo. We just need adult support in the actions we pursue.”

2. Mapping

I’ve wanted to do a district, city, or regional Safe Routes mapping project for a few years. We’re talking about the best way forward and I got some great ideas at the conference. I was especially intrigued with the “SNAP” program through the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). They have a program where schools create their own SNAP Map through a software interface they have on their website. By doing the SNAP map (and some other work) schools become eligible for a SNAP assembly that looked super fun. They have a movie of it coming out. Check out this preview.

I will be analyzing the software UDOT is using for their SNAP maps to see how it might work for our area. We’ll also continue our discussion with the cities, county, and LCOG about different mapping options. Here’s some more information on the SNAP maps:

Developed four years ago and already considered an important tool among educators, the SNAP software and Planning Guide help Utah schools create safe routing plans required by state law. In August 2009, the software was redesigned to be Web-based and interface with Google Maps. The new software features improved:

Convenience: The web-based software allows use on any PC or Mac. Maps can be shared online with parents.
Accuracy: The software interfaces with Google Maps.
Ease of Use: The software is easily operated by users of any skill level.
Instruction:  The software includes a free planning guide and SNAP resources.

3. Congestion Fees @ Schools

This was brought up in a couple sessions that were discussing funding. There were a couple different takes on it: charge parents to park in the lot, charge a “toll” to enter the driveway, or sell arrival/departure passes (a student or staff volunteer could stand out at the arrival & departure area and collect the pre-purchased tickets or monitor for “parking passes”).  This could work well with a “preferred parking area” that would be free (only a block or two walk away!) and then a “fee zone”.  Enforcement could be the tricky part.

We know that 15-30% of the traffic around a school are parents driving their kids to school. How can change that and make it a safer more comfortable environment for families to walk and bike in? Any school want to step up and volunteer for a pilot congestion fee program?  Clever names?

4. Fire Up Your Feet- Active Transportation & Fundraising

The National Partnership teamed up with Blue Cross in Minnesota to start the Fire Up Your Feet program and now they are looking to take it to some pilot communities throughout the US.  It will be a trip tracking, incentive, promotional, and fundraising site with resources and information to get communities across the country fired up about physical activity, being healthy and having a voice in creating livable, sustainable communities. It has some potential, it’s a program I’ll keep my eye on.

5. Follow the Money- When Taxes, bonds & levies come up tie in SRTS

I’ve heard this before but Deb Hubsmith repeated it and it was a good reminder to stay in tune and engaged at the government level for projects and programs that come up that could have a piece of SRTS within them, whether it is a new school bond, road repair dollars, or (heaven forbid) a new tax.

6. Reiteration of the importance of the health tie-in

Again, nothing new but with Blue Cross/Blue Shield as the major sponsor there was a good core of health care people there reminding us of the importance of Safe Routes to School in helping to turn around the obesity epidemic and other health crises.  As our program was helped to form by a pediatric doctor and one of our team partners is Lane Coalition for Healthy & Active Youth (LCHAY) we know how important it is, but it’s good to learn more about building those relationships and tying them in on more projects.

7. Youth Pass

This summer we lost funding at the state level for the Youth Transit Pass program. LTD and 4J are patching some things together for September and for students in dire need of a pass but we will still be missing a lot of opportunities to provide our kids with transportation options and we can bet that we’ll see an increase in congestion around our schools as more parents drive their kids to school, especially those who live too far to walk or bike.  This important program was a model for many communities and we need to work with our legislators and local leaders to find a new solution.

As part of the Youth Empowerment presentation there were some students from Portland talking about the work they have done and plan to do to get passes back for their students. The YouthPass page on PortlandAfoot has some good semi-recent information. If anyone knows some engaged local students who are interested in working on this topic have them contact me and I’ll try and help get something rolling locally. Maybe start out with a local YouthPass facebook page like Portland has started?

8. Education

As we continue to refine and grow our local bike education program it was great to hear about the various programs that are going on around the country. The clear message is find your partners and do what works best in your community.

In our community we are working with the BTA to transition from their long running and successful program that has its issues and limitations (especially long distance management) to a more localized and farther reaching program. Here is a brief summary of where we are at and where we are going:

For nearly ten years we have had a fleet of BTA bikes here in Eugene and a part time educator that has been mainly based out of the City of Eugene River House. There was a joint use agreement where the City would help move the bikes with a trailer they had and in return they would use the fleet for recreation programs. The city also stored the bikes for a time until that space was torn down. Currently the bike storage space is donated by West Eugene Heated Storage. The current BTA instructor, Clare, has now been teaching for three different quarters but funding for the BTA program has been cut at the state level and work is going on to fill the gap as we work to transition from the BTA.

"......And across this river of asphalt you will find freedom, freedom to choose your destiny, how you will get yourself to school, how you will ride to your friends house.... across this river lies a new world. Be sure and signal."

4J now has a fleet of bikes at Roosevelt Middle School and a new multi-school fleet of bikes (38 + 2 adaptive bikes) with an enclosed trailer to store and move them with. Bethel School District is in the process of acquiring their own fleet as well.   We are working with the City of Eugene and other partners to find a way to sustain a program where we can reach all local middle schools (8 in 4J, 2 in Bethel, and eventually 4 in Springfield) with the BTA 10 hour bike safety education curriculum.

As the City of Eugene faces a tighter budget it will be critical that the active transportation community step in to support this bicycle and pedestrian education program. We have the resources coming together through all of our partnerships but we will need a sustainable funding model to add the final spark.

9.  NY Program

I met the coordinator of the NY SRTS program out on a morning ride using the Nice Ride bike share system and later went to a presentation by her staff on the four type of Education Programs they offer in their schools. Though it’s very urban and a large district, the type of programs they are able to offer were very interesting.

Safer Streets– 4 sessions; They talk about transportation, what dangers there are, and what changes can be made. They then do observations of average vehicle occupancy and behavior (including speed). A final iscussion of speeding and other education pieces before working with the students to create a PSA.

Mileage Clubs- 5 session after school for high school students. Encourage them to reach 10,000 steps. Talk about pedestrian safety, healthful eating, clean air, & transportation options

Photojournalism; Use SafeKids/Photo Voice model. Talk about walkability, what you see on your walk and use photography to document that. Discuss street behavior and relation to conditions. Writing and re-imagining is also part of it. They also use RollingCarbon.org as a discussion point.

Signs for Safety (art)- 10 sessions; Discussion of mapping (1 session). Visit the DOT sign making factory (1). Talk about symbols & colors and what traffic signs mean before designing their own sign (4). Decide as a group what it will look like (2). Present it to the community (1).

10. Crossing Guards

There was an interesting presentation by the Florida “crossing guard coordinator” who is based out of their DOT. I learned some interesting things including:

There are no real national standards or even “best practices” for crossing guards, though the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) does have some basic recommendations.
Strong programs seem to be based at State DOT levels

Florida’s “Crossing Guard Training Program” is really impressive. It is run through the DOT and they train local law enforcement agencies on how to train their crossing guards. It is a two day training and they are working on an online version of the first day. The crossing guards are employed through the law enforcement agencies. They almost never use any parent, volunteer, teacher, or child crossing guards. There is state funding to help support the overall program and local funding for the local agencies.

I already knew the Oregon program was run out of our Department of Education but in hearing about other state programs I think ours is pretty lackluster and needs some major improvements.  It seems like something that should be looked at as part of the statewide SRTS program and definitely through the DOT.

Right now the statewide training is by request and is very hit or miss. It also includes student patrols, which I believe the national movement is going away from. Information can be found at ODE “Pupil Transportation”.

Oh, but this was the best part of that presentation:

Bonus Takeaway– A fun cheap incentive idea: Zip ties of different colors for bike rides. Get 5 blue ones for riding in the rain five days and earn a special incentive prize. Something visual on the bike or helmet.


One Response leave one →
  1. 2011 October 10

    Awesome post, Shane!
    thanks for your top ten ideas……fantastic fuel Oregon.

    Thank you!!

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