Talking Safe Routes to School

I spent the better part of last week in Sacramento, at the Safe Routes to School conference.

I was there to speak on the panel “New Tools and Approaches for Mapping Routes, Neighborhood Organizing, and More”. My co-panelists, Brian Fulfrost, Gabriel Lewis, and Wendi Kallins, spoke about their work in Solano County, CA, Champaign County, IL, and Marin County, CA respectively. All the presentations will be on the SRTS conference site in pdf form soon, but Wendi made a notable point that I can emphasize, from our experience at OpenPlans: technology is not enough.

In organizing a pilot “school pool” program in the Kentwood district, (think car pool, but multi-modal), the Transportation Authority of Marin found that just telling people about the website was not nearly enough to get them to sign up. When they recruited neighborhood captains, who then spoke to other parents in their areas directly, more parents signed up for the program, and nearly doubled the number of “green” trips to the elementary school.

The idea of “technology is not enough” is one I’d like to explore more in future blog posts, but for my part at the conference, I spoke about the OpenPlans tools that can be adapted for SRTS. To demonstrate how they might work, we put up a Shareabouts site for the area around the conference center. This map can be used to collect information about unsafe conditions on routes to specific schools during a study period, or it can be used to collect comprehensive information about unsafe pedestrian and bike conditions on an ongoing basis.

Please spend some time on SafeRoutesSacramento, add some points (particularly if you know Sacramento well), and let me know what you think. There isn’t one standard for a SRTS survey. Shareabouts is very flexible and be configured in a number of different ways, and your input will be very valuable in creating a ready-to-go solution that school districts can implement very easily.

The biggest buzz of the week was about “58th and Fruitridge”, a short documentary made by a young filmmaker from Sacramento, Vanessa Hernandez, about the death of high school student Michelle Murigi at a dangerous intersection close to her school. The film made me both cry and shake with rage. A simple stop light could have prevented Michelle’s death, but a year and a half later, the city still hasn’t installed one. Several of Michelle’s friends have created a petition to demand that the city do something.

Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the tweeter of the conference, Jessica Roberts, for amplifying SRTS lessons to a wider audience. I tried to keep up, but she was seemingly everywhere at all times.

The SRTS community is a passionate and committed one. Unfortunately, with changes in the way SRTS programs are funded (last year’s Federal Transportation authorization MAP-21 bundles the money for SRTS with other initiatives into a program called Transportation Alternatives, not to be confused with the NYC advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary last night), there is some concern that SRTS programs will not be able to continue in their current form. Watch this space for updates as the situation evolves.