December 15, 2009

News Release

For Immediate Release

Report: Safe School Routes Protect Children

Springfield’s Safe Routes to School initiative has been profiled in a new national report showing how Safe Routes to School programs can be harnessed to keep children safe from traffic dangers while walking and bicycling to school. Entitled, Safe Routes to School: Putting Traffic Safety First - How Safe Routes to School Initiatives Protect Children Walking and Bicycling, the report explores the approaches five different communities used through Safe Routes to School to create safer environments for children walking and bicycling.

Using funds generated by a quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax, the city of Springfield has already constructed more than 50 miles of sidewalks near schools in the last 20 years, with a goal of providing sidewalks in a half-mile radius around all schools in the district. Now, officials are turning to street crossings in school zones. The Traffic Engineering Division found that fewer than 25 percent of motorists obey the 20 mph speed limit in school zones, putting children and crossing guards at risk of being struck by a fast-moving vehicle. Since 2004, one student has been killed and seven others injured in crashes involving motor vehicles in school zones. Using $249,580 in federal Safe Routes to School funds awarded by the Missouri Department of Transportation, the city has installed 40 school zone speed-limit signs equipped with flashing beacons at all 18 elementary schools and repainted crosswalks. The city also installed reflective fluorescent yellow sleeves onto the posts of 600 school-related signs to increase visibility, using $20,000 in grant funding offered by the FedEx Corporation through the Safe Kids Coalition.

While after-studies are planned to document the effect of the new signage on driver speeds, City Traffic Engineer Earl Newman said motorists have slowed where the eye-catching fluorescent yellow school signs have been installed. In addition, Newman conducted studies at some of the locations where the city had repainted the crosswalks, and found that 90 percent of the students were using the crosswalks when crossing the street.

"In Springfield, parents are not alone in making child safety a priority.  Our community has made a significant investment of resources to create a safe environment where children can flourish,” said Donna Petiford, President of the Springfield Council of PTAs. “The responsibility to provide safe walking conditions and to develop self-reliance and safe habits among children is a shared commitment of parents, school authorities, government agencies and officials, and the children themselves.”

In 2007, an estimated 14,000 children ages 14 and under in the United States were injured as pedestrians, while more than 300 children were killed while walking. In 2008, an estimated 52,000 bicyclists were injured in motor-vehicle crashes, and 21 percent of those bicyclists — nearly 11,000 children — were age 14 or younger. Children walking and bicycling to school represent 11 percent of injuries and fatalities during the school commute, but just 14 percent of trips and less than 2 percent of miles traveled.

Congress launched the Safe Routes to School program in 2005 through the federal transportation bill and provided $612 million for five years of state-level implementation of programs that build sidewalks, bike lanes, and pathways, while also providing funding for education, promotion and law enforcement programs. Federal Safe Routes to School funds are educating children on safe bicycle and pedestrian practices, increasing traffic enforcement to improve adherence to traffic laws and speed limits, and making infrastructure improvements to create safe places for children to walk and bicycle.

Deb Hubsmith, Director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership noted, “Springfield’s success story is a wonderful example of the power and promise of Safe Routes to School to help communities all across the country in addressing traffic safety risks and improve conditions for students walking and bicycling to school.”

The report can be viewed at www.saferoutespartnership.org .

The City of Springfield, Greene County and the Springfield R-12 School District have used a School Crossing Protection Committee consisting of the PTA, R-12 and public safety agency staff from the City, County and MoDOT for more than 35 years to administer the school crossing protection program for R-12 Schools.  Springfield is the only major city with School Walking Route Maps for elementary school students and parents and the city’s safety program has recognized by the International Safe Community Program as a model for other cities.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership, hosted by the non-profit Bikes Belong Foundation, is a network of more than 400 nonprofit organizations, government agencies, schools, and professionals working together to advance the Safe Routes to School movement in the United States. The Partnership focuses on building partnerships, changing policies, advancing legislation, and improving the built environment.

For more information, contact: Earl Newman, Assistant Director of Public Works/Traffic Engineer, City of Springfield, Mo., 417-864-1980
Margo Pedroso, Deputy Director, Safe Routes to School National Partnership
Office: (301) 292-1043, Email: margo@saferoutespartnership.org