Bus Driver Appreciation Day

Minnesota communities and schools wanting to develop safer routes for students to walk and bicycle to school can apply for planning assistance grants through the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program. Application deadline is March 3.

“Many Minnesota communities lack basic connections, such as bike paths and sidewalks, that safely link students to their schools,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “Safe Routes to School grants pay for this planning assistance and infrastructure, and improve safety and public health. I encourage all Minnesota communities to apply.”

Planning assistance grants are the first step for communities to assess their current conditions for walking and bicycling to school and decide what they need to effectively implement a Safe Routes to School program, according to Dave Cowan, SRTS coordinator.

“After a plan is developed, schools and communities use this blueprint to apply for funds to advance infrastructure such as sidewalks, crosswalks and signage, and non-infrastructure solutions, such as educational programming, event and enforcement,” he said.

The planning process works to engage stakeholders, analyze existing data and prioritize strategies to make it safer and easier for youth to walk and bicycle to school.

Plans are completed by regional development organizations or a statewide SRTS consultant.

Cowan said walking and bicycling to school is on the decline nationally, decreasing from 48 percent of students in 1969 to 13 percent in 2009. At the same time, there’s been an increase in health issues such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

“Safe Routes to School planning can help communities design strategies to get students to increase their physical activity by walking and bicycling to school again,” he said.

Since 2006, MnDOT has worked with communities around the state to fund nearly 300 schools’ plans to develop and advance safe routes to school.

For more information, go to www.mndot.gov/saferoutes/planning-grants.html.