5 Feb 2010
San Mateo County to launch first Safe Routes to School program
San Mateo County will receive $1.4 million each of the next three years to launch its first Safe Routes to School Program in hopes of getting more kids to walk or ride bikes to school.
The federal transportation grant unveiled Friday will allow officials and teachers to educate students and parents at the county's K-12 schools and build infrastructure improvements to reduce injuries and deaths among students.
The county will match 11.5 percent of the grant and hopes to leverage the money to get cash from other sources, as well.
Some of the infrastructure upgrades could include street striping, sidewalk improvements, traffic calming signals and bike storage space, according to the City/County Association of Governments of San Mateo County, which is administering the program.
The money will also be spent on bicycle and pedestrian safety education in classrooms, starting "walking school buses" in which parents lead kids in groups to school, and promotion to parents of the health and safety aspects of leaving cars at home.
Fewer than 15 percent of U.S. school children walk or bicycle to school, compared with nearly half in 1969, according to the Federal Highway Administration, which gives out the safe routes grants.
"The more cars you have going to the school, the greater the hazard it creates," said C/CAG Executive Director Rich Napier. "So you'd like to divert some of that into walking and biking. But you can't just say, 'do it.' "
Local schools are having increasing problems with traffic safety, said county Office of Education spokesman Peter Burchyns.
"One of the many issues is that many of the schools were built many years ago, and those schools were not originally designed to handle the traffic we now get," Burchyns said.
Burchyns will serve on a Safe Routes to School task force consisting of education, health and transportation leaders.
Napier said the process will also involve public works and police officials.
Safe Routes to Schools initiatives already exist in Marin, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
There are 219 schools in California and 6,489 in the country that are funded by the program, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School.
The highway administration has given out $612 million for the program over the last five years, including $183 million in 2009.
Staff writer Neil Gonzales contributed to this report. Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation. Contact him at 650-348-4324.