Safe Routes to School :: Practice and Promise
Promising Practices -
From Whom Can We Learn?
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Chapter Four
  Marine County, California  








Marin County, California (population 247,000), a few miles north of San Francisco, is primarily suburban with a number of small, older communities and a lot of rural areas and open spaces. Many people walk and bike in these communities and have a strong commitment to environmental protection. There is also increasing concern over growing traffic congestion. A recent study showed that 21 percent of the morning traffic consists of adults driving children to school. To lessen the aggravation of the morning commute, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition introduced the concept of Safe Routes To School (SR2S) and its benefits of reduced traffic, cleaner air, and healthier children. In August 2000, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition received a grant from NHTSA for a SR2S demonstration project in Marin County. That initial project has grown to include 21 schools with nine more organizing projects.

kids on bikes with helmets

Description of Efforts

  • Encouraged walking and biking to school through classroom education and activities, contests and events (Walk/Bike To School Days, Frequent Rider Miles contest, “walking school buses,” bike trains), mapping of routes, and community involvement.
  • Participating schools received a toolkit, guidance, forms, newsletters, and other promotional materials.
  • Qualified instructors — including law enforcement personnel — conducted safety trainings for second- and fourth-graders and a bicycle safety rodeo.
  • Each community developed an SR2S Improvement Plan in cooperation with Public Works staff, law enforcement, and an engineering consultant.


  • Parents make more of an effort to get their children up in time to walk and bike to school.
  • Tremendous cooperation from the school staff in getting the safety training in the classroom.
  • As shown in the chart below, pilot school's transportation modes shifted (total enrollment of 1,744 students in Fall 2000, 1,756 in Spring 2001, and 10,000 in Spring 2002).
Transportation Mode Percent (Before Fall 2000) Percent (After Fall 2001) Percent
(After Spring 2002)
Walk 14 17 23
Bike 7 12 15
Bus 6 3 4
Carpool 11 15 21
Drive Alone 62 53 38
  • Marin Congestion Management Agency designated 30 percent of Transportation Enhancement funding toward a countywide Safe Routes To Schools program.

Sample Effects at Demonstration/Pilot Sites

  • Greater police presence at all pilot schools.
  • Stoplight at dangerous crossing changed to give pedestrians more time.
  • Sidewalks near local elementary schools improved.
  • Middle school students began walking and biking as a direct result of the contests and continued walking and biking after the contests ended.
  • Fairfax, an older city on the western fringe of densely populated areas, has new bike lanes and funding to fill in sidewalks where there are gaps.
  • Mill Valley and Fairfax police now use radar trailers to control vehicle speed on main arterials near schools.


  • Teacher and staff reluctance to take on additional work.
  • Convincing school administrators that SR2S is worthwhile.
  • Working with Public Works staff not trained in bicycle and pedestrian issues.
  • Recruiting and retaining crossing guards.
  • Finding volunteers to work to involve the middle schools.


  • First-year funding totaled $120,000. Funding sources included:
    • NHTSA demonstration project ($50,000)
    • California Office of Traffic and Safety, Section 402 funding ($15,000)
    • California Kids Plate program ($25,000)
    • Marin Community Foundation ($25,000)
    • Additional foundation support and funds provided by private donations

Lessons Learned

The major lesson learned from the Marin SR2S effort is that the project team must be persistent and stay organized. Many of the school administrators and teachers were reluctant to take on more work, so parents went directly to the school's administration with their pitch. They said they believed that children who walk or bike to school are more alert and tend to do well in school, and that reducing traffic around a school can make the neighbors happy and improve relationships. Then they asked for an SR2S project.

Work with schools must be customized for the community and its needs. Each school's “team leader” or “champion” starts the planning process for the program at the start of the school year with a form schools fill out to select the safety training classes they want and to list the incentives they will use. Each school then has its own plan and timeline—including classroom activities and special walking and biking events—to follow throughout the year.

Marin SR2S also found that getting press coverage was a great way to promote the project and keep the community and public officials informed. Organizers said that it is also important to keep public officials informed and feeling like they are heroes, because it gives them more reasons to help and fund the project.


Wendi Kallins, Program Director
Tel: (415) 488-4101
Web site:













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