At a Glance

Although the term "engineering" is often associated with high cost capital outlay projects such as building parking lots, widening roads or installing traffic signals, in the San Mateo County Safe Routes context, the concept of engineering is used to describe the analysis of the school's environment (including both the physical environment and the behavioral patterns around travel to and from school) and the design and implementation of low-cost, small capital measures that will enable more bicycling and walking.

In San Mateo County many schools have utilized program dollars and the expertise of engineering firms to conduct Walkability/Bikeability audits as a means of generating a formal report with prioritized non-infrastructure and infrastructure recommendations. Schools have also used program funding to support small capital infrastructure projects such as creating walking paths, increasing bike parking, curb and parking lot painting, improving signage, and installing speed humps.

These activities are predicated upon the following principles:

  1. Well identified, safe pathways and crossings are prerequisites for walking and biking.
  2. Relationships are important; having staff, parents and community agencies involved is critical to success.
  3. Effective improvements do not always require substantial funds.  For example, signs and paint are relatively inexpensive and can make a big difference.

Specifics and additional details about engineering type activities are included below.

Walking and Bicycling Audits

Walking and bicycling audits are a formal assessment of environmental conditions (social, built and natural) that affect walking and bicycling.  One objective of the audits is to document factors that help or hinder safe walking and bicycling. These factors include, but are not limited to: street lighting; sidewalk width and condition; traffic volume; presence of bicycle lanes; topography; and presence of dogs, trash and debris.

Walking and bicycling audits provide stakeholders with the information needed to identify problems and create solutions. Numerous audit tools exist that vary in the scope and scale of data they collect. In addition to helping the school identify and prioritize issues that can be addressed immediately, audits and the resulting reports can be used in the development of broader traffic control plans and to support applications for funding of capital improvement projects.

Audits can be conducted by engineering firms or informally by interested stakeholders. A standard audit checklist is available for use.

Route Maps

Route maps are effective tools for informing parents and students of the safest, most convenient, and most accessible walking and bicycling routes to school and can identify areas to avoid due to traffic, lack of signage and other conditions.

While route maps are often developed for all households within the school walk zone, consideration should be given to areas outside of the defined walk zone and, when appropriate, to the entire enrollment area of a school. Identifying park and walk locations, noting walking times, and the location of crossing guards are all excellent pieces of information to include on recommended route maps.

School route maps are often a product of walking/bicycling audits. The recommended route maps can help the school build support for planning, for city and county public works projects to make the streets and community safer, and to identify where school crossing guards and signs are needed.

Mapped walking and bicycling routes should be living documents. As such, they should be reviewed at least annually to see if there have been changes to the school attendance boundary, walk zone or the adjacent neighborhoods.

Additional Measures

While the Safe Routes to School program aims to increase the number of children walking and biking as a means of getting to school, walking and biking are not feasible modes of transit for all students. Some children must be driven, but there are methods of allowing cars, pedestrians, and cyclists to all access school campuses safely. One way of safely increasing the number of children who can safely access school campuses by biking and walking is to make small capital improvements with paint and other low cost measures to keep cars and children separate. Another effective measure of increasing pedestrian and cyclist safety is by decreasing the overall volume of traffic through carpooling, or SchoolPooling. The San Mateo County Approved Engineering Firms are able to assist with drop-off/pick-up strategies, small capital infrastructure recommendations, and setting up SchoolPooling programs.