Determining Policy Goals

What policy approach will be politically feasible and lead to significant improvements in the current situation?

  • What are the goals for your state Safe Routes to School campaign?
  • Will you choose to focus on state or federal funding approaches or both?
  • What are the pros and cons of each type of funding?
  • How can you make sure that communities in highest need are prioritized?

Once you begin to better understand the issues at hand, it will be time to determine the policy goals of your campaign. There are many kinds of state action to support Safe Routes to School. You need to have a clear sense of the approach that you are proposing. In this section, we walk you through some of those choices. You will need to determine, together with your partners, what outcome you are aiming for, as well as the minimal acceptable outcome as negotiations occur during the actual legislative process.

When defining your policy goals, it is important to remember the big picture – building momentum and energy toward substantial future investments in active transportation. Immediate small victories are wonderful and exciting, but if you compromise too much and settle for small wins, you may miss out on winning big. Small wins are not the end; they are the means to an end. Keep your eyes on the prize. Policy goals will help you determine your bottom line – where you will compromise, and where you won’t. Defining these for the campaign is imperative to the success of the campaign, so that it is not derailed due to pressure in the heat of the moment.

One way to help focus in is to have open and honest conversations with partners about how you each define the goal of the campaign and what you each would accept, minimally, as a policy win. It’s also crucial to know upfront if there are areas that you disagree on, and what constitutes grounds for leaving the coalition, or ultimately opposing the legislation. Knowing what is defined as a win will help the campaign keep focused and its persuasive power sharp to reach its ultimate goal. Knowing the definition of what constitutes a win will also inform tactics employed to reach the goal.

This is particularly important for Safe Routes to School campaigns, as they draw upon bicycle, pedestrian, and trail advocacy organizations. In most cases, these organizations can be your best allies, though it’s important to note that some bicycle, pedestrian, and trail advocates may view dedicated Safe Routes to School funding as cutting into funds for their desired projects. Make sure you have an understanding of the types of projects that have been funded to date, a sense of the goals and campaigns these organizations have worked toward, and thoughtful messaging about how your campaign will achieve mutual goals.

What Are your Goals for your State Safe Routes to School Campaign?

State-level Safe Routes to School campaigns need to select among a few potential overarching goals:

  1. Focus on Codifying Safe Routes to School at the State Level:

    Codifying Safe Routes to School programs into state law significantly increases the chances that Safe Routes to School programs are sustainable long-term. A state Safe Routes to School program or department within the state DOT creates a level of commitment and permanency for Safe Routes to School. Having a full-time Safe Routes to School Coordinator to oversee the state program can keep funds moving through the DOT, build state expertise and commitment, provide technical assistance, and overcome hurdles. In addition, a staff person in this role can convene partner stakeholders, raise issues related to Safe Routes to School in other aspects of agency business, and work toward improved policies in various departments or agencies.

  2. Obtain Committed Funding for Safe Routes to School, either through New State Funding or through Dedicated Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) Allocations: As discussed throughout this toolkit, ensuring funding for Safe Routes to School is essential to achieving the goals of getting more students safely walking and biking to school.
  3. Combine: Secure a Dedicated Portion of Federal Funding for Safe Routes to School Efforts AND Codify Safe Routes to School at the State Level:

    Although most Safe Routes to School campaigns focus either on new state funding or on securing existing federal funding, a campaign could potentially address both.State appropriations are cumulative to federal TAP funds, so they provide additional funding, which is imperative in light of low level of funding relative to need. In addition, state funds are more flexible than federal funds, and can be used to support Safe Routes to School for students in high school, who aren’t eligible for federal funds, as well as other uses. One of the biggest challenges in a campaign to obtain state dollars for Safe Routes to School is the need to identify a source for that money – the general fund, a state bond, taxes, or other revenue.

    Campaigns focused on federal funding look to pass state laws committing that TAP funds will be used for active transportation, not transferred to other highway uses. These laws ensure that state DOTs don’t take from the limited federal active transportation funds to access more money for road building. In addition, campaigns focused on federal funding also work to get a percentage of the federal TAP dollars dedicated to Safe Routes to School, just as funds were previously dedicated under federal law. Directing federal funding to support Safe Routes to School programs and infrastructure mean that there is a minimum guaranteed level of funding for efforts that make it easier for children to walk or bike to school.

    Choosing State and Federal Funding Approaches – Pros and Cons of Each

  4. Focus on High Needs Communities:

    No matter the goal that your coalition chooses, getting funds to the highest need communities should always be a campaign priority. One of the core strengths of Safe Routes to School programs is that they bring diverse voices together to work on reducing barriers to physical activity, including making street-scale improvements to the built environment. However, rural and low-income communities, as well as communities of color are often less visible to government agencies and elected officials, and typically have fewer resources. Small, rural, or low resourced communities often do not have the staffing or capacity to take advantage of funding opportunities. In addition, in comparison to more affluent communities, these communities often have missing or older infrastructure that has been minimally maintained due to budget constraints. To ensure that the most vulnerable communities are served, state policy should not only focus on earmarking infrastructure and program funding for high-need communities, but should also create a mechanism for technical assistance and capacity building within priority population communities. Campaigns should educate stakeholders, especially state DOTs, on the need for lower-income communities to receive financial and technical assistance, analyze what steps, if any, the state has taken to help lower-income communities, and work with agencies to ensure that lower-income communities are able to successfully and equitably secure grant awards to improve built environments and community access to schools.