Two New Publications Highlight Federal Safe Routes to School Policy

matthew colvinThis week, the Safe Routes Partnership published a new policy report with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, entitled Safe Routes to School: How States are Adapting to a New Legislative Framework. Additionally, we updated our Snapshot of State Implementation of the Transportation Alternatives Program. While both provide a still incomplete picture of how Safe Routes to School is faring under the now two-year-old Transportation Alternatives Program, the report in particular gives some reason for optimism. 

Since Congress enacted the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act in 2012, states have responded differently to the consolidation of the federal Safe Routes to School, Recreational Trails, and Transportation Enhancements Programs into the Transportation Alternatives Program. The new report, Safe Routes to School: How States are Adapting to a New Legislative Framework, examines how 10 states have implemented Transportation Alternatives and the resulting impact on funding for Safe Routes to School.

The good news is that, even with about a 30 percent cut in funding to the three programs under TAP, the proportional share going to Safe Routes to School projects is only slightly less than we would expect relative to the other program eligibilities. So for now, Safe Routes to School seems to be faring well in states that have begun to award TAP funding. However, with only about 17 percent of TAP funds obligated across all states, that could change as more funding is awarded. Also highlighted in the report are a number of creative solutions states are implementing to ensure Safe Routes to School projects remain competitive and accessible to low-income communities. The result in many of those states is a solid increase in Safe Routes to School spending relative to how the program should perform in proportion to the other eligibilities under TAP.

There were some limitations in writing this report, to be sure. Incomplete, inconsistent, and unavailable spending data; the number of states that have yet to award funding; and the large variation in how in how states are implementing TAP have made it difficult to paint a clear national picture about the impact of TAP on Safe Routes to School. One tool that can be helpful in monitoring the program moving forward is our snapshot of State implementation of the Transportation Alternatives Program, now updated as of October 1, 2014.  The snapshot provides current information about each state’s progress in implementing TAP.

One change of note in the new TAP Snapshot report is the update to FY 2013 and 2014 figures for TAP funding transfers by states. While a number of states have now transferred funding from TAP to other programs, these transfers can be returned back into TAP – as was the case in Texas – or prevented in the future.  If funding was transferred to non-bicycle and pedestrian eligibilities in your state, we urge you to reach out to your lawmakers and advocate for spending all TAP funding on TAP priorities in the future, or returning already transferred funds to back to TAP.