For immediate release: February 21, 2013
For more information: Rachel Callanan 612-803-1008
Legislation to Fund a Minnesota Safe Routes to School Program is Introduced
Measure would help to increase safety of students who walk and bike by reducing funding gaps
St. Paul, Minn. – Legislation to increase the safety of students who walk and bike to school by funding a Minnesota-based Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS) has been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature (SF 687 / HF 797).
The measure would appropriate $12.8 million in bond proceeds and $3.2 million from the general fund to help develop, create and improve infrastructure such as sidewalks, trails, street crossings and bike paths to make it safer for students to walk and bike to school. Last year the Minnesota Legislature created but did not fund a Minnesota SRTS Program.
The Minnesota program was created because the existing federal SRTS Program does not adequately fund the safety needs of Minnesota’s school students. In the last federal funding cycle, MnDOT received 82 applications from local schools requesting $23 million but only $3.8 million was available and awarded to 16 applicants through the federal program. In addition, under the federal program, high schools aren’t eligible for funding.
To make matters even more challenging for Minnesota schools that want to make it safer for students to walk or bike to school, the 2012 federal transportation bill cut funding for the federal SRTS program by one-third, further reducing available grants.
“Funding a Minnesota Safe Routes to School Program will go a long way toward increasing the safety of students who want to walk and bike to school by addressing existing funding shortfalls and expanding the program to include high schools,” said Rachel Callanan, Regional Vice President of Advocacy for the American Heart Association.
Nationally in 2009, more than 23,000 children (ages 5 to 15) were injured and 250 killed by cars or trucks when they were struck while walking or bicycling. This represents 25 percent of all children’s traffic fatalities and 15 percent of all children’s traffic injuries. In 2012, 38 Minnesota pedestrians and six bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles. SRTS is designed to help prevent those injuries and fatalities, especially when children are walking and bicycling to school.
“We – parents, health advocates and school officials – want students to walk or bike to school if possible,” said Jodi Gertken, a St. Cloud area parent and coordinator of BLEND, an initiative of the CentraCare Health Foundation. “There’s a strong correlation between physical activity and students’ academic performance and pediatric physicians have linked the obesity epidemic, in part, to a lack of physical fitness. Walking one mile to and from school each day equals two?thirds of the recommended level of physical activity per day.”
The federal SRTS program was originally established in 2005 to create safe and convenient opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from schools. The program’s legislative author and champion was then Minnesota U.S. Congressman James Oberstar.
Under the federal SRTS program, schools and communities apply for funding to MnDot, which administers the federal grant program in Minnesota. The funding is designed to be used to make improvements to the routes children use to walk and bike to school. These improvements may include physical infrastructure changes, such as sidewalks and pathways, or non-infrastructure programs, such as educational safety programs and materials for teachers, children and families.
The members of the 2012 legislature recognized both the importance of the SRTS program to Minnesota’s students and the financial shortfalls of the existing federal program. As a result, they established a Minnesota-based program but, due to extreme budget shortfalls and disagreement over the size of a bonding bill, did not fund it.
(The sponsors of the 2013 Minnesota SRTS funding bill in the Senate include Senators Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina), John Pederson (R-St. Cloud), Barb Goodwin (DFL-Columbia Heights), Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada) and Jeremy Miller (R-Winona). In the House of Representatives the sponsors include Representatives Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester), Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul),Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis), Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul), Kathy Brynaert (DFL-Mankato), Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River), Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan) and Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake).
On Monday, February 25, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. a rally will be held in the rotunda of the Minnesota Capitol in support of the Minnesota SRTS funding bill. Held in conjunction with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota’s Bike Summit, the rally will feature bill sponsors and former Congressman James Oberstar.
A wide range of Minnesota school, community and health-based organizations support the establishment and funding of a Minnesota-based SRTS Program. Those organizations include the American Heart Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Minnesota School Boards Association, Allina Hospitals & Clinics, American Cancer Society, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, Minnesota PTA, BLEND, Cancer Caucus (Minn. Legislature), Childhood Obesity Working Group (Minn. Legislature), Children's Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota, City of Princeton, City of Royalton, City of Sauk Centre, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Edina City Council, Fire Up Your Feet, Health & Learning Associates, Health Partners, MN Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Minnesota Association of School Administrators, Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition, Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association, Minnesota Local Public Health Association, Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Public Health Association, Minnesota Safe Routes to School Network, Minnesota Secondary School Principals Association, Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition, Princeton Public Schools, Transit for Livable Communities, Twin Cities Medical Society and Youth Determined to Succeed, Inc.
Note to reporters and editors: A video on the benefits of Safe Routes to School to Minnesota students can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq_Sbx61GvA