SRTS Entwined in the Fiber of School Experience in Los Angeles

Safe Routes to School has been a formal program through the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) since 2012 when the city council adopted a strategic plan and a Pedestrian Coordinator position was brought into the department. That role has now evolved into a singular SRTS coordinator.  In recent years, the program has been built on a model that is grounded in a close relationship with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Due to the vastness of LA, it has been extremely important to have a transparent, data-driven approach to target areas of the city with the most need.

A significant milestone for SRTS was a resolution adopted by Board of Education in the Fall of 2016. The resolution formalized a set of tasks, roles and responsibilities for the district and city staff. This was a big step so that now SRTS was no longer only approached through LADOT and Public Works and the Bureau of Streets, but included governance from LAUSD showing the district recognized the importance of the program from a public health and safety perspective. LADOT continues to work behind the scenes, providing support, staff and resources, while working with district stakeholders and constituents. Safe Routes to School is now entwined in the fiber of the school experience in Los Angeles. Having the channels of communication open between LADOT, grassroots advocacy organizations and LAUSD has enabled schools to achieve academic benchmarks as well as safety improvements. LADOT has shown LAUSD that their money is where their mouth is by finishing 14 engineering plans resulting in a mutual trust between the two organizations.  

Safe Routes to School in Los Angeles stands at an interesting intersection with safety education. Not always an area of core strength or capability, they are learning to become stronger through SRTS and Vision Zero. Choosing to look at challenges as new fields of opportunity, they have been looking at what other major cities are doing, specifically NYDOT, and finding valuable takeaways. There is funding in place to develop a more robust safety education toolkit, and an openness to conversations around building safety education into physical education class curriculum. Because of the close relationship with LAUSD, they can weave powerful language about the importance of safety education into newsletters, getting crucial data in front of parents.

Walk to School Day is now a formal citywide initiative in LA. LADOT initially went door-to-door to local schools encouraging interest by offering planning support and providing promotional materials and incentives. The program has grown from 55 schools with close to 200 participating in the most recent Walk to School Day. LADOT was behind the scenes in the most recent W2SD, supporting efforts with an online registration tool. LAUSD operations coordinators have a set of schools they work with regularly, so that promotions, recruitment and support were carried out by the district. The ease with which this initiative is run speaks to the level of understanding of the movement and shows how they are moving towards institutionalization. Walk to School Day now shows up on every principal’s calendar, with no nudging from LADOT.

LADOT is working deliberately with 50 schools to develop street improvement plans; in the next 30 months they’ll be receiving education activities onsite. The SRTS coordinator has met with all 50 of the principals and shared, “It has been a fascinating experience recognizing that as much as you do with a citywide program you must know your local constituents. Each principal sets the tone and approach for their school; you have to touch base with local leaders to get insight into their communities. Especially in LA.  Each community needs a personal touch.”

Next steps for LADOT include securing funding to implement street improvement plans and applying for the next round of state level funding to continue building out and effecting change in the built environment. A new safety campaign at the local school level has been launched, and they hope to measure to see an increase of awareness in people of the importance of traffic safety. A huge mark of success can be measured through future parent survey as they will show if parents are making the connection of the impact of traffic safety on the health of their children. Movement from a low baseline will be deemed a success.

Los Angeles’ Safe Routes to School program is thriving. They can check the box on a robust and community-engaged planning process, and have built a name recognition of SRTS and the goals and objectives of the program. With five more groundbreakings anticipated in the spring as they move towards construction, they can show the community that they followed through and brought plans to fruition, making LA streets safer for all users!