Some of the most common questions clients ask me are: who should hire a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Coordinator? Are SRTS Coordinators most effective when they’re housed in school districts, cities, counties, regions, or even state agencies? What about in transportation or planning departments? The department of education? Or public health?
My answer is usually: whichever agency is ready for it — with funding, political or staff support, and a willingness to take on a big, messy program like SRTS. Now, there are definitely benefits and drawbacks to each potential option. Here’s some of what I’ve seen:
- A SRTS Coordinator who’s at a school district has a unique ability to integrate SRTS lessons into curriculum, encourage institutional buy-in and support of event days, and promote a school culture where active transportation can be a normal part of families’ daily lives. However, even when city staff have participated in a walk audit and identified infrastructure needs, there’s often little momentum for funding improvements.
- Conversely, a SRTS Coordinator within a city may be able to make great progress in securing grant funding for improvements, including walking and bicycling improvements in citywide plans, and even in outreach campaigns for drivers to slow down or for bicyclists to use lights. However, city staff tend to have a hard time getting into the school day or engaging with parents or caregivers.
- SRTS Coordinators at the county, region, or state level are essential for bridging multiple local programs, coordinating between practitioners and reducing the need to re-create similar curriculum or outreach materials. However, they are further removed from the families and often can’t maintain the level of relationships at individual schools needed to keep a program going.
My takeaway? When an organization has an opportunity to hire a dedicated staff person for SRTS activities, they should. All of these organizations have difficulty adding staff positions, so a SRTS Coordinator in any of them can build support for a program. Then, once the community has seen the benefits of a SRTS Program, other organizations may have an easier time finding funding to grow the program and the essential staff who make SRTS successful.
Want examples of school districts, cities, and regions who are working with Alta to make strides in overcoming these challenges? Check them out below:
- MTC and the Bay Area Air District partner on the regional Spare the Air Youth collaborative that brings SRTS practitioners together from around the San Francisco Bay Area
- The Alameda County Transportation Commission’s large (200+ schools!) Safe Routes to School program works with local jurisdictions to conduct School Site Assessments, while bringing safety training directly to schools Countywide.
- The City of Tacoma, WA partnered with Tacoma Public Schools to develop a SRTS Strategy in 2017, and are currently developing a pedestrian education curriculum, in collaboration with PE teachers.
- Minneapolis Public Schools outlined an approach to partner with the City to prioritize bicycle and pedestrian improvements in their recent SRTS Strategic Action Plan.