The Issue

ASLA supports legislation to develop infrastructure that encourages school children across the country to walk or bicycle to school 

Background & Analysis

In the past forty years, the number of U.S. school children who walk or bicycle to school has declined dramatically, contributing to the widespread problems of childhood obesity and traffic congestion.  In an effort to combat these issues by encouraging children to walk and bicycle to school, the federal Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program was established in 2005.

 S. 800, the Safe Routes to School Reauthorization Act, introduced by Senator Harkin on April 12, 2011. It would reauthorize the program and enhance and streamline the implementation of the program.  Specifically, the program allows communities to apply for grants to provide infrastructure improvements like constructing new sidewalks, bike lanes, pathways, safe crossings and traffic signals so that our nation’s young people can safely travel to and from school each day. The program also supports non-infrastructure activities including walking and bicycling safety education, driver awareness campaigns and more robust enforcement of speed limits and traffic safety rules near schools.  The legislation expands the program to include projects for high schools that can also serve nearby elementary or middle schools.

 Since its inception in 2005, SRTS has benefitted more than 4,000 elementary and middle schools across the country.  However, demand for the program continues to exceed available funds.  Currently, there are three times as many applicants as awards and the demand for funds is four times what is awarded.

 By enhancing the Safe Routes to School program, the bill aims to reduce the number injuries and fatalities suffered by children traveling to and from school and improve children’s health while also reducing traffic congestion and air and water pollution.  


Sen. Tom Harkin (IA) and co-sponsors

Current Status

S. 800 was referred to Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works where it is awaiting further action. On November 9, 2011, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee unanimously passed a two-year surface transportation reauthorization bill known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century or MAP-21 (S. 1813). The Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to School, and Recreational Trails programs are all continued under the bill.  However, the measure removes the current dedicated funding for each program and instead lumps all three programs together along with programs to build high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) roads and wetlands mitigation projects.  Specifically, the programs would be consolidated and listed as “eligible uses” under a subset of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ) with funding for all three programs limited to $833 million.  This represents about a $313 million cut from 2010 funding levels for the programs.  Moreover, the proposal would also allow states to “opt out” of these pedestrian and bicycle programs and divert their portion of funding to spend on other CMAQ road projects.  

Since its inception on 2005, the Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program has received dedicated federal funding to provide states with grants to implement projects.  Under MAP-21, the program would no longer receive its dedicated funding. Instead, state Departments of Transportation would apportion funding for SRTS using funds dedicated to carry out the CMAQ program.


The federal Safe Routes to School program was established in 2005 as part of the Safe, Affordable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) transportation bill.  Since its enactment, more than 4500 schools have received federal SRTS grants. Currently, the program is up for reauthorization and Congress will address it as part of a new surface transportation bill.


Related ASLA Policies
• Transportation Corridors and Facilities
• Livable Communities
• Urban Growth and Development


ASLA Government Affairs