Safe Routes to School Catching on in Montgomery County, Maryland

Since Safe Routes to School’s inception in Montgomery County, Maryland, the movement has expanded dramatically. Over the years, SRTS has been thrust into the limelight with successful work ranging from bike/ped safety projects to get students involved in the Walk Your Way Program to the YOLO high school education campaign.

Montgomery County is lucky to have a full-time SRTS coordinator. They have found that it makes a huge difference in bringing the 5 E’s together. Research has shown when you put them all together, it works! They also have had the opportunity to expand the program to high schools. There aren’t many high school specific campaigns, so this has posed a challenge at times. They have learned the importance of continuing the education “E” throughout. The hope is that if children have developed the mindset of a pedestrian from a young age, as they become drivers, they will be more knowledgeable of ped/bike behaviors. They have also discovered ample opportunity for improvement and expansion to educating parents in SRTS and active transportation too. Rather than serving as a role models, they have found that many times kids are doing what they should, but parents are not.

Bells Mill Elementary School is a poster child for a program that ran with their Safe Routes to School program. Montgomery County’s SRTS coordinator reached out to the school after they participated in Walk to School Day (W2SD) and asked to do a bike rodeo at the school. The SRTS coordinator trained the PE teacher, and they held the first bike rodeo together for about 200 students in the third to fifth grades. Ever since the first year, Bells Mill has participated in W2SD and held a bike rodeo on their own each year. There are so many students riding to school now that the principal had to request additional bike racks! Bells Mill was chosen to host W2SD because of their great Safe Routes to School program.

Another fun success story illustrates how children can educate parents with a simple song. Children in kindergarten through second grade took part in a crosswalk simulation at school where they practiced crossing a fake crosswalk with an educational song. A parent shared that her daughter came home singing the song in every crosswalk in the neighborhood. The catchy song stuck, and other parents learned it too. Safe Routes to School is catching on!

In the next year, Montgomery County hopes to see additional schools involved in solidifying SRTS programs, including high schools. They see W2SD as the kick off to the rest of their programming, and since they started participating in W2SD, they have more than doubled participating schools. 50 out of 200 schools in the county are participating, with the number increasing each year.

The Montgomery County SRTS coordinator gets more and more calls about what is going on with active transportation at schools and in the community. Expansion of the program, specifically through education and engineering, has been key to the success of SRTS in Montgomery County. Because of awareness of the program in the community and an excellent working relationship with the school system, they have been able to get the word out and make things happen. One remarkable example of this was at Cold Spring Elementary School. They have an informal back entrance with a sidewalk leading from the school to the back of the neighborhood, and the PTA was concerned about safety with kids running and biking right onto the street. They got permission from the homeowner to put up signs to remind kids to slow down and remember the street is coming, and flex posts at the end to narrow it and as additional reminders. A sign was also placed on the road for drivers with limited visibility. The school said these efforts are working. SRTS isn’t just about big infrastructure projects; even small efforts can have a big impact!