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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Student Safety Coalition Applauds Representative Garofalo for His Sponsorship of Safe Routes Legislation

Student Safety Coalition Applauds Representative Garofalo for His Sponsorship of Safe Routes to School Legislation

Measure would help to increase safety of students who walk and bike to school

St. Paul, Minn. – A broad coalition of Minnesota safety, community, education and health groups is applauding Representative Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) for his sponsorship of legislation to increase the safety of students who walk or bike to school by funding a Minnesota-based Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS.) 

The measure would appropriate bond and general fund dollars 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, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), which administers the federal grant program in Minnesota, received 82 applications from local schools requesting $23 million but only $3.8 million was available and awarded to 16 applicants. 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. "We applaud Representative Garofalo's sponsorship of legislation designed to make that happen."

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.

Under the federal SRTS program, schools and communities apply for funding to MnDot. 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.

A wide range of Minnesota school, community, safety 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 Health, American Cancer Society, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, Minnesota PTA, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, and many others. 

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

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