Safe Routes to School Palo Alto


Palo Alto Safe Routes to School:  History and Resolutions


Safe Routes to School National Partnership Consensus Statement (Overview)

This statement was developed by a coalition of national, state and local non-profit organizations, professional groups and state, regional and local government agencies working to address the decline in walking and biking to school over the last 30 years and to ensure the success of the new federal Safe Routes to School program.  (full statement is at the end of this page).


City/School Traffic Safety Committee (CSTSC)

Since 1994 (and earlier), the PTA through Traffic Safety Representatives and involved parents has been focused on school commute safety and alternatives to single family car trips to school.


A committee called the City/School Traffic Safety Committee (CSTSC) was created of community members, City of Palo Alto staff and Palo Alto Unified School District staff to advise the City Manager and the School Superintendent on matters relating to school traffic safety for students.


Significant progress was made to reverse the trend toward car-commuting. Thanks to the committee's work, we have fewer single family car trips to school and more students walking, biking, and carpooling.  This was accomplished primarily by educating parents and students on alternatives to driving and the benefits of walking and biking to school.


By 2003, the committee had reached the limit of what PTA volunteers could accomplish alone.  A stronger coalition of resources was needed for further change. 


At the same time, a new international movement called Safe Routes to School was expanding the options for communities like Palo Alto.  With leadership provided by Kathy Durham and other community members, the CSTSC and PTA worked to get a task force created to focus on a Safe Routes to School program.


In October, 2005 the City/School Traffic Safety Committee (CSTSC) adopted the Safe Routes to School National Partnership Consensus Statement.  

City/School Liaison Committee

In April 2004, the City/School Liaison Committee agreed to include a discussion of school traffic safety issues on its agenda each quarter.  This was in response to a request from the Safe Routes to School Task Force, a community group.  These discussions have highlighted joint city/school traffic safety initiatives as well as the efforts of PTA volunteers at certain schools to work with school administrators to reduce the number of cars near schools by encouraging students to walk, bike, carpool or take transit when possible.


Palo Alto Council of PTAs

At its October 2005 meeting, the Executive Board of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs endorsed the Safe Routes to School National Partnership Consensus Statement.

Palo Alto Unified School District

At its meeting on November 30, 2005, the PAUSD Board considered a draft resolution endorsing the Safe Routes to School National Partnership Consensus Statement. 


While the Board expressed support for the principles in the consensus statement, school board members raised concern regarding possible misinterpretation of one item in the consensus statement that recommended locating schools away from busy corridors, Palo Alto is built-out and several existing schools are located along major streets.  The committee directed staff to return in January with a revised resolution that could be forwarded to both the City Council and the Board of Education.


On January 25, 2006, members of the City/School Liaison Committee reviewed the revised draft resolution as well as the consensus statement.  School board members agreed that their concerns had been addressed by the elimination of the phrase "not along busy streets on the edges of neighborhoods" at the end of the sixth bullet at the bottom of the first page of the consensus statement.  Committee members discussed the need to include education and efforts to change attitudes that induce parents or teenagers to drive to school as part of local Safe Routes to School efforts.  After discussion, by unanimous vote, the committee then recommended to the City Council and Board of Education adoption of the resolution endorsing the Safe Routes to School National Partnership Consensus Statement.


The School District Board of Directors adopted the recommended changes to the Consensus statement in their February, 2006 meeting.


City Council of Palo Alto

In February 2006, the City Council of Palo Alto endorsed the Safe Routes to School National Partnership Consensus Statement, as endorsed by the City/School Liaison Committee on January 25, 2006.


Ongoing Efforts

Safe Routes to School has taken hold at a policy and grass-roots level within Palo Alto and  our surrounding communities.


We continue to strive to collaborate with various resources community wide, to reduce traffic risk for Palo alto students and to encourage more families to use alternatives to driving to school more often.


You can get involved by emailing Sylvia Star-Lack, Transportation Division, or calling her at 650-329-2156.


Safe Routes to School National Partnership Consensus Statement (as endorsed by the City/School Committee on January 25, 2006)

We believe it is time for a change.

The Problem

In the last 30 years we have seen a loss of mobility among our nation's children that has severely impacted their personal health and their ability to explore their neighborhoods, even by walking or biking to school.


Consider these facts:

  • Within the span of a single generation, the number of children walking and bicycling to school has dramatically declined.  In 1969, approximately 50% of children walked or biked to school, and 87% of children living within one mile of school did.  Today, fewer than 15% of school children walk or bike to school. (CDC)
  • There are more than three times as many overweight children today as there were 25 years ago.  (CDC, NHANES III)
  • As much as 20 to 30% of morning rush hour traffic can be parents driving children to schools.  (Data from local communities)


The problems are all related to the fact that many communities lack basic infrastructure - sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, pathways, and crosswalks-and are no longer designed to encourage or allow children to walk and bicycle safely.  Concerns about traffic, crime, and other obstacles keep children strapped in the back seat of cars which further adds to the traffic on the road and pollution in the air.


The Solution

Communities around the country are organizing Safe Routes to School programs, which have a common goal to make it  safe, convenient, and fun for children to walk and bicycle to and from school like their parents did.  While each program is unique, the programs have common objectives to:

  • Encourage students, families, and school staff to be physically active by walking and bicycling more often.
  • Make streets, sidewalks, pathways, trails, and crosswalks safe, convenient, and attractive for walking and bicycling to school.
  • Ensure that streets around schools have an adequate number of safe places to cross and that there is safe and convenient access into the school building from adjacent sidewalks.
  • Keep driving speeds slow near schools, on school routes, and at school crossings.
  • Enforce all traffic laws near schools, on school routes, and in other areas of high pedestrian and bicycle activity.
  • Locate schools within walking and bicycling distance of as many students as possible.
  • Reduce the amount of traffic around schools
  • Use trails, pathways, and non-motorized corridors as travel routes to schools.
  • Provide secure bicycle parking at schools.
  • Teach traffic safety skill routinely in school.


Each community is unique, so every Safe Routes to School program must respond differently.  Successful programs include some combination or all of the following approaches to improve conditions for safe walking and bicycling:


  • Encouragement - Using events and activities to promote walking and bicycling.
  • Education - Teaching children about the broad range of transportation choices, instructing them in important lifelong safety skills, and launching driver safety campaigns.
  • Engineering - Creating operational and physical improvements to the infrastructure surrounding schools, reducing speeds, and establishing safer crosswalks and pathways.
  • Enforcement - Partnering with local law enforcement to ensure drivers obey traffic laws, and initiating community enforcement such as crossing guard programs
  • Evaluation - Monitoring and researching outcomes and trends through the collection of data.

The Partnership

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership is comprised of multiple constituencies at the local, state, and national levels.  It includes:

  • Parents
  • Students
  • Educators
  • Government officials
  • Business leaders
  • Community groups
  • Advocates for bicycling and walking
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Transportation, urban planning, engineering, and health professionals
  • Health, conservation, and safety advocates


The Safe Routes to School National Partnership works to support the development and implementation of programs by:

  • Setting goals for successful implementation.
  • Sharing information with all interested parties.
  • Working to secure funding resources for Safe Routes to Schools programs.
  • Providing policy input to implementing agencies.
  • Providing training and resource materials to assist communities in starting a Safe Routes to School program.
  • Illustrating the cost effectiveness of Safe Routes to School programs.
  • Providing training and resource materials to assist communities in starting a Safe Routes to School program.
  • Illustrating the cost effectiveness of Safe Routes to School programs.
  • Providing a unified voice for Safe Routes to School.

Through forming the Safe Routes to School National Partnership, we call on you to join us in giving children back the sense of freedom and responsibility that comes from walking or bicycling to and from school  Together, we can again provide children with the opportunity to know their neighborhoods enjoy fresh air and arrive at school alert, refreshed, and ready to start the day.  As partners in the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, we are transforming children's lives and their communities.