Assessing Recommended Routes to School

Explanation: In recent years it has become common practice for schools encouraging active transportation to designate recommended or suggested routes to school based on feedback from walk audits,[56] parent surveys, and input from Safe Routes to School teams.  These routes, when possible, take advantage of low-traffic streets, crossing guards, multi-use paths, and ample traffic signage to help students, families, and teachers minimize safety risks and improve their walking and bicycling experience.  Many schools show these recommended routes on a map that is developed in collaboration with the local jurisdiction and perhaps a School Team.

Option 1: District encourages individual schools to perform a walk audit (or other similar assessment) to (a) assess traffic and safety conditions in the vicinity of the school, (b) identify safety conditions needing mitigation, and (c) based on those assessments, begin to identify recommend routes to school. Schools may conduct this assessment as a classroom activity, through the use of school staff, volunteers, or parent associations, or in collaboration with the School Team. Where identified hazards or concerns fall within the jurisdiction of District, District shall assess and seek to mitigate as promptly as possible. When identified hazards or concerns lie outside of District’s jurisdiction, District shall work with your jurisdiction (or other the appropriate entity) to mitigate them. If the identified condition cannot be fully mitigated at present, District shall encourage your jurisdiction or the appropriate entity to have such conditions marked with appropriate signage and further mitigated when funding becomes available.

Rating: 
2

Option 2: District requires individual schools to perform a walk audit (or other similar assessment) to (a) assess traffic and safety conditions in the vicinity of the school, (b) identify safety conditions needing mitigation, and (c) based on those assessments, begin to identify recommend routes to school.  Schools must conduct this assessment in collaboration with the School Team, which should include at a minimum representatives from your jurisdiction. Where identified hazards or concerns fall within the jurisdiction of District, District shall assess and seek to mitigate as promptly as possible. When identified hazards or concerns lie outside of District’s jurisdiction, District shall work with your jurisdiction or the appropriate entity to mitigate them. If the identified condition cannot be fully mitigated at present, District shall encourage your jurisdiction or the appropriate entity to have such conditions marked with appropriate signage and further mitigated when funding becomes available.

 
Rating: 
3

Option 3: District requires individual schools to perform a walk audit (or other similar assessment) to (a) assess traffic and safety conditions in the vicinity of the school, (b) identify safety conditions needing mitigation, and (c) based on those assessments, begin to identify recommend routes to school.  Schools must conduct this assessment in collaboration with the School Team, which should include at a minimum representatives from your jurisdiction. Where identified hazards or concerns fall within the jurisdiction of District, District shall assess and seek to mitigate as promptly as possible. When identified hazards or concerns lie outside of District’s jurisdiction, District shall work with your jurisdiction or the appropriate entity to mitigate them. If the identified condition cannot be fully mitigated at present, District shall encourage your jurisdiction or the appropriate entity to have such conditions marked with appropriate signage and further mitigated when funding becomes available.

District shall partner with your jurisdiction to produce maps (a) identifying any hazards or travel conditions needing mitigation and (b) showing recommended routes from surrounding neighborhoods for students to travel to and from school.

 

Rating: 
3

Do not include this element in my policy.

Legal Note:

In producing maps that contain recommended routes to school, schools should take precautions to minimize liability. First, whoever creates the maps should take the responsibility seriously. It’s a good idea to get city or county staff involved – especially transportation, public safety, and public works officials – in identifying suggested routes, since providing good routes to schools should be part of a local government’s responsibility.

Second, maps should contain simple explanations about how they should be used. Maps should state that families remain responsible for getting their children to and from school safely, and that the school is not assuming such responsibility by providing suggested routes. They should also point out that new hazards or conditions may arise, and that families and children should use their common sense in following the maps.

A question sometimes arises regarding the term “safe” routes to school.  People wonder whether by using the term “safe” routes they could be seen as promising that the routes to school are safe – a guarantee that is, of course, impossible to ensure.  As a general matter, districts and others should feel comfortable calling a program a “Safe Routes to School” program. The term “Safe Routes to School” has been embraced by federal and state governments in funding and programming pertaining to school transportation. There is no reason to believe that this term provides any type of safety guarantee.

The issue is a little trickier when it comes to describing a map as showing “safe routes” for traveling to and from school, although any risk from use of this term is fairly remote. Although a lawyer might point to the word “safe” as having created a false sense of security if a student were injured while traveling to or from school, it would be very unlikely for a court to view the name of the route map as providing any kind of promise to users. However, to avoid this argument, and in the interests of using a more accurate description, it may be preferable for schools to refer to routes as “recommended” or “suggested” rather than “safe.”

Getting Started

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Each policy is eligible for a given number of stars, depending upon how much the policy contributes to creating a safe and encouraging atmosphere for children to walk and bicycle to school. Some policies are only eligible for one star, others for two stars, and others for three stars. For some policies, selecting a stronger option may provide additional stars.


Users of this document should be aware that every funding source has different requirements governing the appropriate use of their funds. Under U.S. law, no federal funds are permitted to be used for lobbying or to influence, directly or indirectly, specific pieces of pending or proposed legislation at the federal, state, or local levels. Organizations should consult appropriate legal counsel to ensure compliance with all rules, regulations, and restrictions of any funding sources.