Safe Routes to Schools
Safe Routes to Schools is a national program to improve safety and encourage children to walk and bicycle to school. In Arlington, the program is a collaboration between several County government agencies, Arlington Public Schools, and student and parent groups. Although Safe Routes to Schools is a year-round program, Arlington joins with many other communities internationally each year in observing Walk to School Day on the first Wednesday of October.
Arlington's Safe Routes to Schools program focuses on the following areas:
Every October, Arlington Public Schools uses "Walk to School Day" as an opportunity to promote the Safe Routes to Schools program to parents and students. A letter from the Superintendent is sent home with students, reminding families of the safest routes to their particular school. Parents may also receive a walking route map and bus route map from their children's school. Families are encouraged to walk to school together at least once to discover the best route and to discuss safety issues such as looking both ways at intersections, staying on well-lit pathways, and handling potentially dangerous situations.
Evaluation and Engineering
A core element of the program is the evaluation of existing safety conditions around all 32 Arlington Public Schools, and the engineering (design) and construction necessary to remedy the problems the evaluations uncover. The Arlington Police Department and Department of Environmental Services work with principals and other school administrators to evaluate safety conditions at each school, identify physical improvements that are needed, and make the improvements. Improvements that have been made include the installation of signage, improving crosswalk marking, and adjusting snow removal policy, on-street parking, and traffic signal timing.
Policies that address pedestrian safety issues are critical but only effective where enforced. In Arlington, enforcement efforts by County Police and Sheriff's Departments have focused on speeding, illegal turning, illegal parking, and security near County schools. The County's "speed trailers," which provide drivers with visual readout of their actual travel speeds, have been employed more frequently near schools, reducing the incidence of speeding on many roads.
Encouragement: the extra "e"
The final element of the Safe Routes to Schools project is encouragement. Students in Arlington Public Schools learn about how walking and biking to school provides them with healthy exercise and greater awareness of their environment. They also learn that reducing the volume of student drop-off traffic at school leads to greater safety for everyone.