Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is an evidence-based strategy with a goal to increase the health and safety of children and improve environmental quality. SRTS encourages children to walk, bike, and participate in other forms of active transportation on the way to and from school. The Pasadena and Baytown SRTS programs have been modified to address the specific needs of each community. However, both SRTS programs aim to create safe, convenient and fun opportunities for children to bike and walk to and from school. The Pasadena SRTS and Baytown SRTS programs were designed to achieve the following outcomes:
· Increase the number of children walking and biking to school
· Increase knowledge of and support for SRTS among teachers, parents, students, and community members
· Increase physical activity in children
· Increase the number of safe street segments in school zones
· Foster safer neighborhoods
· Decrease the likelihood of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and injuries
· Reduce childhood obesity and risk for chronic disease in the long term
Pasadena SRTS – The creation of the Pasadena SRTS plan began from grassroots efforts led by HLM- Pasadena to tackle childhood obesity and increase physical activity in students. In 2014, SRTS education and encouragement activities were discussed and implemented by HCPH, HLM-Pasadena partners and Pasadena ISD, leading to discussions on creating an SRTS plan. In 2017, efforts to create a formal Pasadena SRTS plan began and the plan was completed in 2018. The community partners and the SRTS team met monthly and worked closely to create opportunities to increase the number of children walking and biking to school. More specifically, the community partners collaborated with the SRTS team to create the Pasadena SRTS plan using the 6 E's:
· Evaluation: An initial environmental assessment was conducted in 2012-2013 prior to the creation of HLM-Pasadena to determine barriers to walking and biking around priority elementary schools. Following the establishment of HLM-Pasadena, it was determined that a number of schools did not have bike racks, thus presenting a barrier to riding a bike to school without a safe place to store it. Lastly, during the data collection phase of the SRTS plan, parent perception surveys were distributed to parents of all 4th grade students, principal interviews were conducted, and an infrastructure assessment using the EST was completed around the seven priority schools.
· Engineering: As a result of environmental assessments, walk audits, and EST findings a number of engineering changes have taken place. In 2014, bike racks for eight Pasadena ISD schools were purchased and installed. In 2017, a pedestrian bridge in unsafe conditions at Gardens elementary school was replaced with a new steel-beam bridge. Sidewalk connections to this bridge were later completed in 2019. After the completion of the SRTS plan, the city installed a new pedestrian esplanade with mid-block crossing on Richey Street in front of Richey Elementary and has committed to utilizing engineering and sidewalk improvement recommendations in the future. All engineering recommendations were vetted by the City of Pasadena and Harris County Precinct 2 prior to completion of the plan.
· Encouragement: The SRTS team developed a Bike Fairy program to reward and encourage students who rode their bikes to school. On various days throughout the school year, the Bike Fairies would leave goody bags filled with fun and educational materials on bikes parked at the schools. The priority schools began hosting walk and bike to school events in 2017 with two schools participating. In the 2019-2020 school year, that number increased to 13 schools hosting events with 1,154 students participating. There were an additional six walks scheduled between March-May 2020 that were unable to occur due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The increase in events is a direct result of Pasadena ISD incorporating the hosting of walk and bike to school events into their school health policies, contributing to the sustainability of SRTS efforts.
· Equity: Equity considerations were included and prioritized throughout the SRTS Pasadena plan and recommendations. The SRTS Plan identified seven priority schools located in north Pasadena schools that did not offer bus service and students either had to walk or bike to school or be transported in a family vehicle. To reach the approximately 18% of residents in this area that do not speak English well, all educational and encouragement materials were developed in English and Spanish. Lastly, these selected schools have higher rates of poverty and low-income families so all SRTS events and resources were provided at no cost.
· Enforcement: HLM-Pasadena and the SRTS team established a partnership with Pasadena Police Department to ensure the safety of students, families, and school staff during SRTS events and provide education and program materials to the community on ordinances related to pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Law enforcement was present at walk and bike to school days to assist with traffic management and event safety. In June 2020, the SRTS national partnership amended the 6 E's by dropping Enforcement and replacing it with Engagement.
· Education: In order to highlight the importance of walkability, HLM-Pasadena and the SRTS team provided SRTS technical assistance and education to all district PE teachers and crossing guards, hosted community workshops on conducting walk audits, and led stakeholder workshops on planning for economic and fiscal health with an emphasis on walkable communities. The SRTS team also participated in community events to promote SRTS, to provide information on walk and bike safety and to distribute bike helmets and safety lights.
The Pasadena SRTS plan also included implementation recommendations and strategies based on feedback and input from parents, environmental assessments, the school district, Pasadena elected officials, HLM-Pasadena Community Task Force members, and participants at community events and outreach opportunities, such as, health fairs and the Child Health Town Hall. Since completion of the Pasadena SRTS plan with strategies and recommendations, the SRTS team has continued to work with Pasadena ISD and HLM-Pasadena on SRTS efforts. Near-term commitments from the City of Pasadena include: 1) using its annual sidewalk maintenance budget to replace and repair sidewalks where possible; 2) incorporating pedestrian and bicyclist improvements in its Capital Improvement Plan projects where possible; and 3) exploring additional funding sources to improve infrastructure and promote active transportation. SRTS funding through the Pasadena Vibrant Community initiative also supported the creation of a school district staff member to support SRTS activities and other district health programs. Pasadena ISD has committed to maintaining this position after grant funding expires as they have witnessed the benefits that this program has for their students.
The success of the Pasadena SRTS program led to the opportunity to engage and begin SRTS efforts in Baytown in 2019. In partnership with the Be Well Baytown steering committee, a collaborative of 23 community organizations including GCCISD and the City of Baytown funded by MD Anderson Cancer Center, the SRTS team comprised of EPH's BE Unit and staff from NCDP Division, began a 3-year initiative to create SRTS and Safe Routes to Parks (SRTP) Plans. Baytown SRTS efforts are currently still in the engagement and planning phase, but the Baytown SRTS plan was completed in December 2020. The Baytown SRTS plan was developed for six priority elementary schools within GCCISD. According to a school district official, GCCISD serves 23,701 students on 28 campuses. A majority of the students (63%) are of Hispanic and Latino race/ethnicity, and 69% of the total student population is enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program. The Baytown SRTS plan identifies current barriers to walking and biking to school and offers tangible, implementable, and prioritized steps for addressing the barriers.
In June 2020, the SRTS National Partnership amended the 6 E's by dropping Enforcement and replacing it with Engagement. The Baytown SRTS plan will incorporate Enforcement within Education, Encouragement, and Engineering by creating a collaborative environment where parents, crossing guards, teachers, and law enforcement work together to promote safety awareness, safety education, and if needed, enforce traffic laws. Using the 6 E's model, the following activities have been completed to date:
· Engagement: The SRTS team has built strong relationships with diverse stakeholders at different stages in the SRTS planning process. Collaboration with Be Well Baytown, GCCISD, the City of Baytown, Baytown Parks Department, and Baytown Planning Department have worked to maximize outreach and community guidance and assisted with efforts to develop the SRTS Baytown plan and recommendations. The next steps include comprehensive community engagement to promote SRTS, safe walking and biking, and opportunities for active transportation.
· Equity: In the Baytown SRTS plan, equity measures have been used to identify priority schools and areas that may need additional resources, such as education materials, programming, and infrastructure improvements. Next steps include prioritizing outreach in communities of color and historically underserved areas as well as developing SRTS program materials and activities that reflect the community and culture within and around the schools.
· Engineering: The SRTS team conducted infrastructure assessments using the EST in 2019. Using the findings and results from this assessment, a list of infrastructure and engineering recommendations were created and provided to the City of Baytown, GCCISD, and Harris County Engineering Department to create a safer walking and biking environment. The next steps include working with community partners and project stakeholders to explore the feasibility of protected or shared bike lanes as well as implementing tactical urbanism projects. Continued collaboration will need to occur to discuss implementation of recommended infrastructure improvements and to identify long-term funding opportunities.
· Encouragement: Currently, community stakeholders and partners are working with GCCISD priority schools to host Walk to School Day events in the Spring of 2021. Next steps include developing a plan for school districts to monitor progress and evaluate SRTS success, develop recognition criteria to celebrate schools and champions who have excelled in their SRTS efforts, and create tools and techniques that schools can use to encourage students and parents to walk or bike outside of SRTS events.
· Education: The SRTS team hosted a virtual SRTS training for GCCISD PE teachers in September 2020. The training provided an overview of SRTS and the Baytown SRTS plan, encouraged teachers to motivate students to meet physical education objectives, and offered tips for applying pedestrian and bicycle safety into virtual and in-person curriculum. The SRTS team has also presented at several informational events for Baytown community members and local community organizations. The next steps include hosting safety education and train the trainer events, presenting at School Health Advisory Council or PTO/PTA meetings, providing informational materials to parents, and informing the residents of Baytown about the opportunity and resources for reporting issues or concerns related to city infrastructure.
· Evaluation: In order to create the SRTS plan, a number of initial evaluation activities were conducted between 2019 and early 2020, including parent perception surveys, infrastructure assessments, a neighborhood survey, principal interviews, and crossing guard surveys. This information was combined with data on GCCISD and student travel findings to create data-driven recommendations in the plan. The plan also includes future evaluation metrics to assess the success of the SRTS program after recommendations and activities have been implemented.
The SRTS team received funding from MD Anderson Cancer Center to create both SRTS plans and to implement education and encouragement activities in Pasadena and Baytown. Funding for the Pasadena SRTS program over one year totaled $77,500 and funded staff, training and technical assistance, engagement incentives, and materials and supplies. Funding for the Baytown Safe Routes program totals $265,000 over three years to fund both a Safe Routes to School plan and Safe Routes to Parks plan. The grant funds two additional program staff, purchase of promotional and educational materials for encouragement and education activities, technical assistance and training opportunities, mileage reimbursements and expenses related to data collection activities.