DOT logo
NHTSA logo

Safe Routes to School

Index / NHTSA Home / Table of Contents

Promotion Toolkit
This Toolkit provides information about activities designed to encourage children to walk and bike to school. The purpose of a Safe Routes to School (SR2S) program is to foster a culture where walking and biking are celebrated and encouraged. Festive events and clever contests will make biking and walking to school attractive and enticing.

Establish a team
Establishing a network is necessary for launching a successful SR2S program. The SR2S Team should be started at your school with the goal of obtaining official status with the school administration. This can be done through the PTA or as a school subcommittee. Start by finding parents, teachers, administrators, and students who share your enthusiasm for walking or biking and are concerned about traffic safety.

The Team Players
Parents are the most active SR2S participants because of their concern for their children. They form the majority of the SR2S teams to help organize events, contests, and classroom activities, while also publicizing the program and recruiting other volunteers. They have detailed knowledge of their neighborhood and have a wealth of information about safety hazards in and around the schools in the community.

Children are the heart and soul of any SR2S program. When children are inspired, their enthusiasm is infectious. Students often serve on the SR2S teams and use classroom assignments to help gather information for engineering improvement recommendations.

The Principal
An enthusiastic principal can be a great motivator for a SR2S program. The principal ensures that contests and events are compatible with the school calendar and helps set aside time for SR2S classroom lessons, assemblies, and bike rodeos.

Teachers can offer tremendous support for a SR2S program by bringing information into the classroom, reminding students of special events, and assigning student activities. Active teachers often set an example by walking or biking to school themselves.

Often there are neighbors without school-aged children who are equally concerned about traffic safety in the community. Neighbors are also knowledgeable about safety issues in their community and can serve as volunteers for events and classroom lessons. Often neighbors volunteer to be crossing guards or participate in other Escort programs.

City or County Staff
A close relationship with local law enforcement as well as public works and public health departments is essential to a successful SR2S program. Law enforcement can provide extra patrols and escorts on Walk and Bike to School Days, help to gather speed and injury statistics, assist with classroom lessons and ultimately can implement a long term enforcement strategy. Public Works staff can work with the community Task Force to assist in evaluating the streets and creating a SR2S Improvement Plan that can then be used as a blueprint for making physical improvements.

Elected Officials
The city council and school board are the key participants on a SR2S Task Force, even if they are not active members. The city council will ultimately decide on street improvements, when to allocate local resources, and when staff members should apply for grants. Elected officials often enjoy participating in events, enhancing publicity.

Businesses and Community Groups
The local chamber of commerce and area businesses can assist a SR2S program by providing donations of food and prizes. Businesses also can help publicize your program and provide staging areas for Walk and Bike to School Day events. Those businesses that are located adjacent to schools will want to participate in the mapping process, because reduced traffic benefits their customers and employees. Senior groups, walk and bike clubs, and community organizations can provide expertise, connections to elected officials and staff members, and volunteers for events.
In your search for team members, you can:

Getting Started
In the early stages, you may be active in outreach activities and only have a handful of people to start the SR2S team. Don’t let that discourage you. Your work is important and even one or two people can plan a small event such as Walk and Bike To School Day or a classroom contest. As the program increases its visibility in the community, people will realize that this program is fun and important and more people will want to join your team. Go ahead and start with a small group but keep searching for additional members who can help the team.

Your first meeting will be an ideal opportunity to introduce the program and get to know your fellow team members. Be sure to set time aside in the beginning for people to introduce themselves and talk about their reasons for participating. Discuss your goals for the program and establish a list of tasks and a timeline for achieving those tasks. Your first activities will focus on gathering information (see below). Safe Routes to School depends on volunteers. Have a number of small tasks available for those who have limited time to devote to the team. Remember, no job is too small and even the smallest efforts are appreciated! If you decide to start with a kickoff event, see “Events” (page 18) for more detailed information on how to proceed. If your initial efforts will focus on safety improvements, consult the “Safe Streets” (page 29) section of the toolkit.

The following tips will help ensure uniform involvement by all members of your team:

Gather Baseline Data
Surveys generate baseline data that can help shape your SR2S program. Surveys can be administered visually (such as counting the number of bicyclists), verbally or in writing, to individuals or to groups. Surveys can be short and concise or extensive with data gathered over a number of days, such as a one-week travel diary. A well-designed survey will provide unbiased information that can help to identify the current level of biking and walking to schools, the physical and perceived problems, and opportunities for biking and walking in your community.

Before and after surveys can be useful in evaluating the program’s accomplishments. For example, counting the number of bicyclists and walkers before, during, and after SR2S events can help quantify the impact of your promotional activities. This type of information is valuable when trying to obtain funding or to show the importance and effectiveness of your work.

Designing and evaluating the surveys in order to get baseline data can be time consuming yet rewarding. Surveys should be designed so that data capture specific information in an unbiased manner, requesting a desired level of detail while ensuring the method you use is easy to code and evaluate (sample surveys are found in the Resources section). Someone must administer the survey and then enter the responses into a database so that the data can be analyzed. This should provide an accurate snapshot of your target audience’s behavior, so be sure to share the findings with the community as a way to generate support for the program. If this task overwhelms you, ask a math teacher, local traffic engineers and transportation planners, or the county health department for assistance in developing your survey.

Student Surveys
Student surveys, which reflect how students travel to school, are essential to determining your program’s success. These surveys can be done by students (see Classroom Activities section) or by volunteers from the team. An oral survey asking for a show of hands in each homeroom is simple and easy. Ask how many students walked, biked, bused, carpooled, or were driven by parents or siblings to school. You can also include a category for skateboarding, scooters, and other transportation modes. Be sure to explain the definition of a carpool – two or more families who share driving. It’s best to conduct this survey for a week at a time to get an accurate picture of students’ travel behavior. (Take note of potential variations in travel behavior because of weather and other seasonal variables.) At the end of the school year repeat this survey using the same parameters to determine any changes in student travel behavior. Older children may be asked for more detailed information about their transportation choices. Middle and high school students can develop and administer their own surveys. (See Classroom Activities.)

Traffic Counts
Traffic counts measure the number of vehicles arriving at school. A simple traffic count involves volunteers at each school entrance counting cars arriving during the half-hour before school begins. More complex counts could tally the number of cars passing the school and/or the number of students biking and walking to school. A simple way to measure biking is to count the number of bikes in the bike rack after school starts. You also could count the number of children getting out of each car at the various drop-off points around the school. Ask school bus drivers to count the number of children on their bus. At the end of the school year and/or during SR2S events, repeat this traffic count the same way to determine any changes in traffic patterns around the school. Students also can conduct this traffic count survey as a classroom activity (see Classroom Activities section).

Parent Surveys
Measuring the attitudes of parents can give your team insight on the reasons behind students’ travel behavior. Ask parents how their children currently get to school and why this travel mode was chosen. If parents drive their children to school (and most will), ask why. Then ask what might get them to allow their children to walk and bike to school. This information will help you design your program to address the safety concerns of parents. Be sure to ask them if they want to volunteer, and provide space on the survey for their name and contact information.

Parent surveys are distributed to parents either by mail or sent home with students. Surveys also can be conducted by phone using a random sampling (choose parents from the school directory at random). The method of distribution might influence survey length and design.

Other data that will strengthen your program:

Communicate with Your Community
After the Safe Routes Team has collected and analyzed the baseline travel data, present it to the wider school community. Publish it in the school newsletter, and/or develop your own newsletter or flyer. Speak to the PTA, neighborhood groups, and the city council. Invite the community to a special SR2S forum to present the data, discuss issues revealed in the survey, and explain the SR2S program. After people understand the need for the program, you can schedule community-wide meetings. Create a warm, welcoming feel, offer refreshments and provide childcare, if possible, to increase attendance. Post notices, advertise in your school newsletter, and e-mail or call everyone who has expressed interest. A personal contact will make people more likely to attend.

As a word of caution, avoid setting up an adversarial process. Certain individuals may resist aspects of the program that require a change in their behavior. While these people can challenge the program, they can also contribute to its success. Do not identify these people as a group or faction. Try to facilitate a positive process where all concerns are heard. Criticism and dissenting opinions often lead to the development of an improved program. If you approach all individuals with respect and consideration, everyone can be a strong ally.

The project team also is responsible for promoting the SR2S program and making its goals known to the wider community. Outline the variety of problems that the SR2S program addresses and request input and feedback from those affected by the program so your activities can be modified, as necessary.

Special events promote and stimulate walking and biking. Events such as Walk and Bike to School Day give people the opportunity and motivation to try something new for a day, in the company of others. Once children and parents discover the joys of walking and biking through such events, they are more motivated to continue on their own.

picture of students in class

Walk and Bike to School Days
In 1997, National Walk Our Children to School Day began with a walk in Chicago sponsored by Partnership for a Walkable America. By 1999, 300,000 children from 170 cities across the United States were participating. On October 4, 2000, the event officially went global with International Walk to School Day, which included nine countries and more than 2.5 million participants. By 2001, the number of participating countries had doubled.

A Walk and Bike to School Day event can be beneficial for a number of reasons:

A Walk and Bike to School Day can be simple or elaborate, depending on the needs of your community. Design an event that your team can handle and that suits your community. Be sure to give your team sufficient time to plan your event. It usually takes 4 to 6 weeks to organize the first Walk and Bike to School Day, but some communities have created events in just a couple of weeks.

Here are some tips for organizing a Walk and Bike to School Day:

Planning the Event
At your first meeting, determine the goals for the event. Is the focus on fitness, or is this a way to bring attention to a needed improvement such as a crosswalk? Whatever your goals, discuss them and write them down. This will help you in designing your promotional packages.

Decide the scope and structure of the event. You can invite parents and children to walk on their own and create a welcome table at the school. You also can create staging areas where parents can drop off their children to walk or bike with a group. A nearby shopping center or church might allow you to use its parking lot or there may be a park near the school where children can gather. Encourage neighborhoods to organize their own “Walking School Bus” or “Bike Train” (see escort programs in the Safe Streets Toolkit).

Make a list of all tasks and assign them to members of the team. If the attendance is low, then recruit other people who might be able to help, and assign tasks to them. At the end of the meeting review the tasks and responsibilities one more time.

Children’s Safety
Ensuring the children’s safety is essential for any event. Adequate and competent supervision is critical. Recruit adults to meet children at pre-determined locations or staging areas and walk or bike with them to school. If walking, try to have at least one adult for every 12 children (or more if the children are in kindergarten through second grade); if biking, include more adults, approximately one adult for every seven children. Ask parents to walk with their own children, especially if they’re young.

When traveling on busy streets, it can be helpful to have extra supervision. Some communities have adults stationed at strategic places along routes to school. Often schools provide crossing guards at busy intersections near schools. Local law enforcement is usually willing to participate and may provide one or more officers for the event. Some police departments even have bicycle patrols that can bike alongside the children.

If you are organizing “Bike Trains,” make sure that children are properly equipped and sufficiently trained for safe cycling. Every child must wear a properly fitted bike helmet. Conduct traffic safety training before the event to ensure that children understand the rights and responsibilities of cyclists. Limit participation to those children who are old enough to negotiate traffic on a bike unless they are accompanied by their parent.

Use the opportunity of a Walk and Bike to School Day to encourage people to get to know their community and identify safety concerns. The Safe Routes Checklist (see Resources) is used to assist in mapping the community to evaluate routes. Pass out the checklist no later than the day before and ask the children to use the list with their parents as they walk. Passing out the checklist earlier will give families an opportunity to walk the route in advance of Walk and Bike to School Day. Have the children draw maps and display them around the school. Publish the results of the checklists in the next school newsletter and use the information as part of your Task Force mapping process. Use this as an opportunity to recruit more volunteers.

Create a Celebration
Creating a celebratory atmosphere is an excellent way to increase energy and make the event fun for everyone. Decorate the routes to school with banners or signs. Greeting children with banners, balloons, flags, or even the school band, creates a festive occasion. Free treats and other refreshments offer an incentive for children to participate.

In many instances, the materials needed to organize a celebration can be acquired for free or at low cost. Students can make signs, banners, and flags. Law enforcement agencies, city transportation departments, and health organizations often have trinkets to give away. Local grocery stores usually have a budget to donate healthy treats but be sure to give them a few weeks notice.

Advertising is important to set the tone and recruit participants for the event. A festive promotional tool, such as a banner at the school, will constantly remind students that a celebration is coming. (See the Safety Art lesson in Classroom Activities.) Backpack mail, school newsletters, distributing flyers at school drop-off points, and news media press releases are all effective ways to advertise your event. If your school has a communications system, such as an e-mail list or classroom phone trees, make use of that to promote your event. Ask the principal to make announcements over the loudspeaker in the days leading up to the event, and have teachers remind their students. (See the Resources section for a Walk and Bike to School Day Checklist.)

Classroom-based activities are another way to promote the event while providing educational value. Find teachers who are willing to hold classroom activities prior to the event. Volunteers also can go to classrooms to conduct safety and/or art lessons. An exciting assembly that includes bicycle-riding demonstrations will delight the children.

Ideas from Other Communities Make it Fun!
The bobcat is the mascot for Bonita Elementary School in Bonita Springs, Florida. For International Walk to School Day, the community of Bonita Springs painted a two-mile path of blue paw prints leading to the front entrance to the school. Children from Queen Mary Elementary School in the Canadian province of British Columbia drew the longest hopscotch in the world and followed it to school. Whole Foods staff helped out Whittier Elementary School in Boulder, Colorado, by dressing up in fruit and vegetable costumes on International Walk to School Day.

Use the Day to Promote Traffic Safety
At Bryn Mawr Elementary in Renton, Washington, “Walk Smart” became the theme and rallying cry of the day. Weatherproof signs with the message “Walk Smart, Drive Slower, Our Children Want to Grow” were fashioned on T-shirts, flags, and umbrellas, as well as used to line the route to school. In Capital Heights, Maryland, more than 100 children walked together singing safety songs.

Bring People Together
In Broward County, Florida, Walk to School Day was combined with Broward Navy Days. Sailors, dressed in Navy whites, walked with students to school. Physical education students at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, planned and participated in Walk to School Day at three area elementary schools. In Clarkston, Georgia, children from a refugee resettlement community used the opportunity to create a cross-cultural experience. Waving handmade pedestrian safety signs written in several languages, they all joined hands to walk together.

Other Innovations


Challenge students to change their behavior through contests and competitions. Contests and competitions are fun and children are motivated to win prizes. Contests are effective in encouraging the students to act beyond their normal experience and try out new ideas and activities. Yet, be cautious not to overdo a good thing. For example, a yearlong contest might cause children to lose enthusiasm. Keep changing the themes to keep students interested. Not all contests reward participants with prizes. Sometimes the students’ reward is seeing their work published or used for a community education campaign.

Frequent Rider Miles
The Frequent Rider Miles contest was originally conceived by GO GERONIMO, an alternative transportation program in the San Geronimo Valley in Marin County, California, and adapted by the Marin SR2S program of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (See Resources). Children are issued tally cards to win points for walking, biking, carpooling and busing. Every time they walk or bike to school they earn two points. Every time they carpool or take the bus they earn one point. When they earn twenty points students turn in their card for a small prize and get another card. At the end of the contest, hold a raffle drawing of all the completed tally cards for major prizes. Contact local businesses and ask them to donate prizes.

In Marin, Specialized Bicycles, Schwinn, Diggler, and Bell Helmets have donated prizes including helmets, gloves, hats, T-shirts and a new bike for each of the nine pilot schools. This contest had tremendous success in getting students to walk and bike on a regular basis.

Greening of the Trees
In the “Way to Go” contest (British Columbia), each child comes to school and colors a leaf. The color of the leaf is determined by the child's travel mode. Walking and biking students color leaves green. Those who arrive by bus and carpool get a different shade of green leaf. If a child traveled by car part of the way, but walked at least a block, the leaf is half yellow or brown and half green. Students who arrive by car (but not in a carpool) get a brown leaf. The leaves are then mounted on a tree, and the more the children walk or bike to school, the greener the tree becomes. Give a prize to the class with the greenest tree.

Walk and Bike Across America
Another “Way to Go” Initiative, this contest allows students to get a broader perspective on the freedom provided by walking and biking. Students keep track of the distance that they walk and bike to school by calculating how far they live from school and multiplying that by the number of one-way biking and walking trips. If children are dropped off at staging areas near school they calculate the distance they travel from there. Similar counts are made from home to the bus stop.

Each week at a designated time, the students add up the distance that the whole class traveled during that week and plot it on a map. Then they “travel” to a destination chosen by the class within those miles. Students become aware that they can travel great distances on foot or by bike. As your class continues to accumulate miles, the class can research new destinations around the country. At the end of a designated time, the class that has traveled the farthest gets a special reward, such as a video or pizza party.

In a variation on this contest, you can include carpools and bus passengers by adding bonus miles for every child who uses those modes. Note that students using motorized transportation can travel farther than those going on their own power. To include the actual miles would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Add one mile to the class total for every child who carpools or rides the bus to school.

Art Contests
Art contests give children the opportunity to develop safety slogans and art while learning about better safety practices. Their artwork can then be used as signs or banners as part of a community-wide safety campaign. Students in Hertfordshire, England (United Kingdom), saw their own artwork transformed into “gateway” signs to alert drivers entering roads around schools.

Essay Contests
Essay and creative writing contests give students an opportunity to address how transportation affects their community and the environment. Middle school students at the Lagunitas School in Marin County, California, met with school instructors to develop an essay that looked at two different scenarios. What would the world be like in 20 years if everyone drove as much as Americans? They were then asked to contemplate a world where everyone rode bikes, walked, or used transit. The outcome “Nightmares and Sweet Dreams” was a thought-provoking essay on the choices the students face in their future. The essay was published in a number of different newsletters.

Other Contest Ideas

Organize a Treasure Hunt by creating a list of objects, safety signs, and special landmarks and ask the children to locate them on their walk to school. Those who find all the items get a prize. (See Walk and Bike to School day and Classroom Activities.)

Hawthorne School in British Columbia created a classroom game board. Every time the majority of the class walked or biked to school, they stamped a square on the board. When the whole board was completed, the class qualified for a class prize.

A Walk-a-Thon is a way to promote walking and raise funds at the same time. Children solicit pledges for every mile they walk (or bike) to and from school. At the end of the period, the student who raises the most money wins a prize.

Promote Your Program
Repetition is the key to the continued success of your SR2S program. A SR2S program should be promoted by maximizing its visibility through repeated outreach to its potential “customers.” The rule of thumb in marketing is that people need to hear and read about an event at least three times before they pay attention. Personal contact increases the likelihood of participation. The more times that children and parents hear about the program, the better the chances of participation. Specifically having teachers and respected adults and students promoting the events can greatly increase visibility.

Flyers and Banners
Post flyers around the school announcing team meetings, events, and contests. Expand beyond the school and post them at local businesses. Make your flyers attractive by using eye-catching graphics (see samples in Resources section). Find a volunteer who has experience in graphic design to help you design your flyers. Be sure to include all the important information—who, what, where, when, and why, but don’t load up your flyer with too much text because pictures often tell the story better. Make sure your flyers are easy to read and that the most important information is big and bold. You also can make large banners that can be placed in strategic places at the school and in the community.

Backpack Mail
Most schools have a day every week when they send home notices with the students (“backpack mail”). This is an excellent and low-cost opportunity to communicate with parents on a regular basis. Send home your flyers as well as more detailed information on the program. This is one way you can do your parent surveys. Provide parents with fact sheets on the significance of health and safety for the children, for the community and for the natural environment (See Resources). Every piece of information sent out keeps your program visible.

School Newsletters
Most schools have newsletters that are sent home periodically. Find out if you can include a regular column in the newsletter and get the deadlines for the submission of articles. Use the school newsletter as an opportunity to talk about the Safe Routes to School program and initiate discussion. Be sure to announce all events and contests in at least two separate issues of the school newsletter. Let parents know when classroom activities are scheduled, especially if the children need to bring their bicycles or other equipment.

Media Alerts
The media love stories about children. Send out regular press releases to announce your events and contests. Publicize the results of your surveys. Stage a photo opportunity with students walking and biking but be sure to get model releases for the children used in the photo because they cannot be photographed at schools without parental permission. Follow up every press release with a phone call. Media outlets receive numerous press releases so a phone call will get their attention. Form a relationship with the editor or a writer and be sure to call them every time you have a newsworthy story. Don’t forget to thank the reporter or editor if your event was mentioned in print. The editorial page is also an excellent opportunity to get more publicity for your program. Have team members write letters to the editor or longer opinion pieces.

E-mail is an excellent tool for communicating with busy people. At all meetings and events, collect e-mail addresses and develop a comprehensive e-mail list to keep your supporters informed. Include elected officials and school and city staff people on your list. Keep your e-mail messages short and to the point. Announce events, classroom activities, meeting reminders, and other updates. Many schools have created their own e-mail lists. You can often make use of these to announce your events, classroom activities and contests. These lists are also useful for recruiting volunteers.

You can also start your own e-mail list-serve within your school or with other teams in your community. List-serves are made available by private servers to allow multiple parties to have access to each other without having to enter individual addresses. These are usually free and allow for two-way communication within the group. This allows you to keep people informed about your activities and build support for the program. It is a good way to communicate with volunteers who don’t attend meetings. You may want to suppress the address list to protect parents’ privacy.

Web Sites
Many schools now host their own web sites. Ask if you may have a page on the school’s web site. Cities also have web sites and you can ask for a page on that site. You can also set up your own web site to keep people abreast of your activities and then link it to the city and school sites.

Phone Trees
Many schools set up phone trees for each class. You can activate these phone trees for your Walk and Bike to School Days and for classroom activities. Some schools even have sophisticated phone systems that can call all school parents with automated announcements. You can also set up your own phone trees within your group. Phone calls are the best way to get people to attend meetings and events. It is especially important to call everyone on your team before a meeting. Do not assume that they have it on their calendar or that they saw an e-mail update. Going the extra mile with a phone call will give you much higher attendance at meetings and events.

Direct Mail
Send out a mailing to every parent at the school or a community-wide mailing to announce events or workshops. While direct mail can be expensive, your city or school may have the budget to include you in a mailing. Direct mail assures that everyone sees your announcement or survey. Mill Valley, California, sent out its parent surveys by mail and got a 50 percent response rate.

School Announcements
Request that the principal make announcements over the loudspeaker for events and contests. For Walk and Bike To School Days, the students should be reminded repeatedly to participate. Put an announcement up on the reader board. Have the teachers announce it in the classrooms during homeroom.

Classroom Activities
Classroom activities help to raise awareness and get students excited about the program. Combine classroom activities with your events so that they happen in the same week or in the week leading up to your event. This helps to build enthusiasm for the event. (See Classroom Activities.)

Keep the Energy Alive
With contests and events, children will participate in SR2S programs in much greater numbers. However, they will return to their old habits without continued reinforcement. Use all of the above techniques to keep the energy alive. Continue to remind parents and children about the importance of reducing traffic and the health and environmental benefits of walking and biking. Work with your SR2S Task Force to improve the conditions of the streets to provide safer access.

Make sure you thank your volunteers often. Let them know they are appreciated. Give your team an opportunity to bond with each other. Empower them by giving them responsibility and decision making powers. Volunteers need to feel they have ownership of the program and that their ideas are valued. Treat each other with respect even when you disagree.

Have fun with your program. Walking and biking are thoroughly enjoyable activities. Make that evident with everything you do. People are attracted to those with positive attitudes. You will get more volunteers, more media attention, and more cooperation from your city and school officials when you are positive and upbeat. Remember, you’re not only an organizer you’re a cheerleader.

The KEYS to a Successful event
Involve the people who can create change.

Contact your mayor, city council representatives, school district superintendent and board, police chief and city traffic engineer to join you.

Think big—invite the governor, federal and state legislators, and state department of transportation officials to participate. Let them know that the media has been invited.

Urge them to take part in the event with their own children or others.

Make it a community program.

Enlist the help of parents, teachers, local business people, neighborhood associations, and other community organizations when coordinating your event.

Contact parent/teacher organizations, local emergency medical services, and city police, fire, and public health departments.

Ask local businesses to donate prizes for participants.

Ask a local business near your school to let you use its parking lot as a staging area.

Publicize and promote the event.

Use e-mail, backpack mail, phone calls, and flyers to get the word out.

Send a press release to the media.

Follow-up with phone calls to local media outlets. Let them know:

  • What state or community leaders will take part in the event.
  • The number of children and parents who are expected to walk.
  • What other community groups are involved.
  • Best locations and exact times to join the walk.

Call the media again the day before the event.

Send flyers home to parents well in advance of the event.

Be sure the Walk and Bike to School Day is announced daily at school the week before so that students will be ready and excited.

Have students draw posters advertising the event.

Take pictures and submit them with a press release to local papers immediately following the event.

Index / NHTSA Home / Table of Contents