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Active Transportation for All San Mateo County Residents

Staff Perspective Heather Eastwood

Active transportation, or the use of any human powered mode of transportation such as walking or biking, is an important element in staying healthy. When people are physically inactive this can compound preventable health issues like obesity, diabetes, or heart disease, but not everyone has the same opportunities for staying active. These opportunities include infrastructure, such as sidewalks, cross walks, or bike lanes, or it can mean having a safe environment, public transportation within walking distance, or other resources nearby, such as grocery stores. In addition to the infrastructure and resources, education is a part of utilizing active transportation modes, because when people are informed on how to travel safely, they are more likely to make this choice.

For the past six months, I have been working with the San Mateo County Department of Education (SMCDOE) to evaluate the equity aspects of their Safe Routes to School (SRTS) grant program. This program is national program present in all 50 states that is administered through the Federal Highway Administration, and here in SMC the SRTS program is a partnership between San Mateo County’s Office of Education (SMCOE) and the City and County Association of Governments of San Mateo County (C/CAG). Using data from the SMCOE, the U.S. Census, American Community Survey (ACS) (2011-2015) and UC Berkeley’s Transportation Injury Mapping System, Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS) (2009-2013), I evaluated the program’s past funding and identified schools located near high collision areas and residing in high poverty areas.

The complete report is forthcoming, but key findings include:

  • From 2011 to 2016 funding cycles, all 17 elementary school districts in San Mateo County received SRTS funds at least once
  • Of the 148 elementary schools, 22 were located in census tracts where at least 30% of residents were below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).
  • Of the 148 schools, 49 were within one mile of a dangerous intersection, with 12 of these 49 within one mile of two dangerous intersections, and six within one mile of three dangerous intersections.
  • Layering schools within high-poverty areas with high-collisions counts revealed 10 public schools and two private schools located in these areas.

These findings highlight that there are some schools in the County that are in areas in need of additional funds for programs and infrastructure to be able to provide safe routes to school. Aside from addressing the physical fitness aspects, students using active modes of transportation perform better academically and are less likely to be injured if they travel to school in areas that prioritize safe walking and bicycle infrastructure. It is here that schools, school districts, and other government agencies can support active transportation for all students by providing this safe walking and biking infrastructure in their communities. The SRTS program is one venue by which these stakeholders can provide an opportunity for students to increase physical activity, while also increasing academic performance. The forthcoming equity analysis can help inform decisions to target limited funds to schools and communities most in need and thus maximize equitable results.