Few issues in Washington are as divisive as transportation funding. But communities big and small all around Washington State all agree on one thing: The streets near and leading to our schools need to be safe.
That’s why so many communities have sent the state proposals for Safe Routes to School projects that would make it safer and easier for kids to walk and bike to class. The state asked communities if they would like help funding these vital community safety projects, and the answer was a resounding, “Yes!”
But the state budget currently only has enough cash to fund a pitiful one in four of these requests. That means every year, three of four schools requesting safety upgrades nearby won’t get them, and students will have to continue to cross dangerous streets on the way to class. Or, likely, won’t be allowed to walk or bike to school at all. That’s not acceptable.
But the state legislature has a chance to change this right now. The Democrat-controlled House is currently debating their response to the Republican-controlled Senate’s transportation funding package passed earlier this session. This multi-billion dollar funding measure is a chance for the state to support local communities that want to make vital safety changes near schools.
The legislature also has the chance right now to increase funding for the walking and biking safety and mobility grant program, which helps communities catch up with desperately lagging walking and biking safety goals.
But Washington Bikes warns that without action from constituents and leaders in the legislature, it’s likely no new money will be allotted for walking, biking and Safe Routes to School. That means years more with only one in four Safe Routes to School requests being funded, or worse if more communities apply for the limited pot of money. It also means no big push to make communities safer for biking and walking and decrease the hundreds of people killed or seriously injured every year.
The state’s Target Zero traffic safety plan notes that the state has not been effective at reducing walking deaths and serious injuries in recent years. This is a big problem, and it’s not going to be solved without boosting funding.
Between 2005 and 2012, 96 Safe Routes to School projects were completed, and not a single collision was reported at any of those sites after the safety improvements were made. That’s an incredible record, and legislators should proudly boost this and other safety grant programs if they want to start making progress on our lagging walking and biking safety goals.
Lucky you, WA Bikes has created this handy form to help you contact your legislators and voice your support for increased bike, walk and Safe Routes to School funds.
Here’s the text of the default letter to lawmakers so you know exactly what WA Bikes is seeking in this transportation package:
As your constituent I am writing to ask you to prioritize funding for the Safe Routes to School and Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety and Mobility grant programs in the transportation revenue package. These programs are vital to helping build healthier communities and stronger economies throughout our state.
In order to fully meet the demand for projects from schools and communities I ask you to fund:
– $15 million per year for Safe Routes to School
– $15 million per year for Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety and Mobility
I also ask you to fund additional priority walking and biking projects to jump-start these investments so people from 8- to 80-years-old have safe connections to bike and walk.
Fully funding these programs will help build communities that are safer and more active. Making these investments helps our state on many fronts:
– HEALTH: When children can safely walk or bike a mile to school, they can meet two-thirds of the daily-recommended amount of exercise. Increased physical activity helps childhood health AND improves their academic performance.
– ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Annually bicycle riders spend $3.1 billion in businesses around Washington state. Growing this lucrative travel and tourism industry is critical to supporting small businesses statewide.
– SAFETY: From 2000 to 2006, 30% of traffic-related deaths among children between ages 5 and 15 happened while walking or bicycling.
– BUDGET SAVINGS: Studies have found that healthcare costs associated with physical inactivity decrease by almost $3 for every $1 invested in safe pathways for people walking and biking.
– CONGESTION RELIEF AND HEALTH: When more children bike or walk to school, more parents drive less, ultimately reducing congestion and improving air quality around schools.
A recent statewide poll showed 84 percent of Washington voters believe that funding for Safe Routes to School programs should be prioritized in the State transportation budget. I am part of the 84 percent.
Please prioritize funding for these programs so we can build communities that are safe for Washingtonians of every age to get out and get active.
Right now in the House of Representatives budget negotiations are in full swing to spend billions of additional dollars on transportation.
Unfortunately, there’s a good chance that little to no new money will go to walking and biking connections and programs to help children walk and bike to school with the safety they deserve.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Across America and around the world, leaders are prioritizing safer biking and walking because these investments are integral to building stronger economies, healthier communities, and transportation connections that work for you. Washington state leaders have the opportunity to prioritize these investments too, but they need to hear from you today.
This is real funding that will make a real difference toward providing everyone with the freedom to safely bike to get where they need to go. We can’t afford to miss this opportunity to invest for today’s children and generations to come.
At current funding levels, three of every four Safe Routes to School safety improvement applications go unfunded, leaving our most vulnerable most at risk. We’re asking legislators for $30 million per year with additional projects identified to jump-start these investments so people from 8 to 80 have safe connections to bike and walk.
This is our chance to make big things happen for biking and walking, but only if you speak up now.