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SF to expand street safety program to more than 100 schools

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A program intended to encourage San Francisco students and families to walk and take public transit to schoool is set to expand. (Courtesy SFMTA Photo)

A program intended to encourage children and families to walk and take public transit to school is expanding its reach from 36 San Francisco schools to 103, nearly tripling its reach.

The Safe Routes to School program brings its street safety education program to 103 SFUSD schools; the content includes police and fire department classroom presentations, in-school bike classes, Muni safety classes and support to form “walking school buses” for students.

The expansion of the program was hailed Tuesday at a San Francisco County Transportation Authority meeting by the Board of Supervisors, especially considering the bumpy road it took to improve the program.

Safe Routes to School was formerly led by the Department of Public Health. In September last year, however, the program was lambasted by the transportation authority board, which is made up of members of the Board of Supervisors, who questioned its effectiveness in spurring schoolkids to walk or take transit to school. Supervisor Katy Tang was an especially outspoken critic, and recommended re-directing $750,000 of the program’s $2.8 million budget toward street safety changes in the Sunset District, which she represents, among other areas.

But the response to the Safe Routes to School program at Tuesday’s transportation authority meeting was far more positive, with supervisors expressing support, despite some reservations.

“I like that we have clearly defined goals, reducing single family car trips and reducing collisions,” Tang told SFMTA staff on Tuesday.

In January the transportation authority ultimately decided the program’s budget would not be repurposed, contingent on SFMTA’s meeting certain key deadlines, according to transportation authority documents, such as Tuesday’s report to the board.

Now led by the SFMTA, the program will aim to reduce single family car trips to school from 48 percent of all school trips to 30 percent, by 2030. Though there is no significant trend of annual fatalities caused by traffic near schools, San Francisco averages 32 traffic collisions annually near schools, which Safe Routes to School aims to cut in half by 2030.

To do so, the program will not rely on education alone. The SFMTA will conduct engineering analyses of the 103 schools under its purview that will provide the basis of improvements, according to the SFMTA. The agency will also perform at least 40 school safety audits which will see more immediate changes, like painted safety zones, new safety signage, and speed humps. Each school would see about $50,000 each for those improvements, according to the SFMTA.

Not all supervisors were satisfied with the new goals of the program. Supervisor Jeff Sheehy worried that private schools in San Francisco didn’t see safety improvements as well.

“It’s hard for me to see how this is a comprehensive program if it doesn’t include private schools,” he said.

John Knox White, planning programs and education manager at SFMTA, told Sheehy this was not the case. Though some of the education programs were not easily coordinated with private and charter schools and may come at a later time, private schools see street safety engineering improvements too, he said.

“I want to be clear, we are not proposing to do this only around public schools,” Knox White said.

Knox White told the Examiner the expanded education components of the Safe Routes to School program will tentatively roll out a year from August.

In the meantime, Knox White said, the SFMTA will determine how to allocate its resources, which can be tricky due to equity issues.

“There are some schools where parents have the time, the available time, to actively participate in not just getting their kids to school but the community,” he said, “and there are some where parents are working longer hours.”

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