Healthy Communities Legislative Action Bulletin 5


States Step-Up for Safe Routes to School

March 2014 | Vol. 1, No. 5

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs, which originated in state and local government, are intended to increase the ability of students to use active travel (e.g., walking, bicycling, skateboarding, etc.) to get to and from school and increase physical activity levels. Since 2005, federal money dedicated and apportioned to states has paid for SRTS activities, but the 2013 federal transportation reauthorization eliminated that dedicated funding source. Although SRTS activities remain eligible for federal Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) funds, states can now choose to opt out of using up to half of the TAP money for bicycling and walking. In addition, local communities must now provide a 20 percent match. Given these new realities, state legislators, state departments of transportation and governors now must shoulder more of the responsibility of ensuring that SRTS funding and programming continue.  

SRTS provides grants to localities and school districts for infrastructure improvements near schools such as traffic calming, flashing speed signs, speed cameras, sidewalks, and crosswalks that keep children safe on their way to school and for educational programming such as bicycle and pedestrian education, walking school buses and promotional community-building efforts like Walk-to-School Wednesdays. 

Recent research examining SRTS programs confirms their effectiveness in increasing rates of physically active travel to and from school. One study found that schools in four states that received SRTS grants had rates of walking increase by 45 percent, bicycling increase by 24 percent, and all active travel increase by 37 percent; with all active transportation increasing at the sample schools from 12.9 percent to 17.6 percent. Another study found that rates of active travel at elementary schools receiving SRTS grants were 60 percent higher than at non-participating schools; 32.4 percent, compared to 20.2 percent. 

New Jersey is currently debating legislation that would take a significant step towards creating a stable funding stream for SRTS in the Garden State. AB 959 and SB 230 would direct 10 percent of all fines collected for motor vehicle violations to the state Safe Routes to School Fund. The bills would also give preference to projects on high priority roadways; defined as those with four pedestrian fatalities in the past year, or more than eight pedestrian fatalities in the past three years. If enacted, New Jersey would join Hawaii, Illinois and Washington in dedicating a portion of traffic violation fines to improving pedestrian safety near schools. Hawaii currently directs surcharges for speeding—$25 in a school zone, $10 in other zones—to counties for SRTS activities. Illinois law directs $50 of each fine for speeding in a school area to school safety purposes, including the state safe routes to school program.

In other state action regarding SRTS, the Colorado legislature enacted HB 1301 in 2014, which provides $700,000 in state funds for the state’s SRTS program, as well as adding criteria that the program consider awarding SRTS grants to communities with schools with over 50 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch.  The bill also requires that at least 20 percent, but no more than 30 percent of funds must be used for non-infrastructure programs. For Fiscal Year 2014-15 however, all grant awards must be for non-infrastructure programs.

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

  • Technical Assistance: NCSL can provide testimony to legislatures on healthy communities policy options; prevention; health promotion; reducing health disparities; access to healthy foods in communities; community design to facilitate physical activity; policies to facilitate bicyling and walking;  and other healthy communities policy topics. Contact Alise Garcia at
  • NCSL Community Gardens Webpage examines state laws that encourage and support community gardens.
  • Food Choice Incentives LegisBrief discusses policies that provide incentives for access to nutritious food and healthier food choices.  

Other Resources