SRTS is much more than a "sidewalk program," although "engineering" or infrastructure projects are an important part of making safe walking and cycling to school possible.
At the community level, SRTS efforts are organized by a local task force that brings together school and municipal leaders, parents, children, representatives of community organizations and anyone else interested in the program. Their task is to assess local conditions and find ways to make improvements.
In the evaluation phase, the local task force identifies residential neighborhoods within two miles of a school and determines existing and potential walking and cycling routes. Surveys of parents and students gauge attitudes about walking and biking.
The education and encouragement parts of the program teach safe pedestrian and cyclist behavior and promote the health effects of physical activity.
Fear of crime, bullying and traffic hazards prompts parents to load kids into private vehicles for the commute from home to school. Organizing escort programs such as "walking school buses" and "rolling bike trains" provide adult supervision and safety in numbers.
Enforcement efforts by local police can help reduce dangerous driving practices in school zones.
SRTS planning uses a framework known as the 5Es:
This approach is based on an understanding that the barriers to safe walking and bicycle riding are both behavioral and physical. Reflecting this, solutions are classified as non-infrastructure and infrastructure. Most SRTS projects will begin with the non-infrastructure approach, using the first four of the five "Es."
In addition to surveying parents and children, the evaluation process can including mapping the safest routes between students’ homes and the campus.
Sometimes elementary school children are not aware of the rules of the road they are supposed to follow when they ride bikes. Others need instruction in the proper way to cross the street safely. This is where the education element is useful.
The "walking school bus" or "rolling bike train" approach has put some fun into the trip to school in Nashua and Farmington. When an adult volunteer accompanies a group of walkers or bikers, this form of encouragement gets kids out in the fresh air while providing safety in numbers. Participation in a one-day or week-long walk- or bike-to-school event is an excellent way for a community to initiate a SRTS program.
In other communities, speeding drivers and motorists who fail to stop in crosswalks put children at unnecessary risk. In Concord, for example,the local police participated in an enforcement effort where cruisers park in visible sites near the schools during morning and afternoon drop-off and pickup times.
Engineering or "infrastructure" solutions require the most advance planning and initial commitment of local funds. These projects can be relatively inexpensive. New signs, painted crosswalks, and a stripe marking a bike lane on the shoulder of a road are examples. In other situations, a local task force may apply for funds to repair sidewalks or fill in a gap in sidewalks on what would otherwise be a good route to school.
A comprehensive program incorporating the 5Es is described in what is known as a school travel plan. Applications for infrastructure projects that do not include such as plan are at a significant disadvantage when programs are selected for reimbursement grants.