New Jersey Safe Routes to School has a new home on the Internet.  Launched in June, www.saferoutesnj.org  is the state’s one stop resource for everything Safe Routes.  Reading up on general information, finding your regional coordinator, watching webinars or keeping up with SRTS news, it can all be done in one place.  Plus, the newest features are the invaluable tools and step-by-step instructions for developing school travel plans, improving existing plans, and measuring progress over time.

The new and refined tools are the work of sixteen graduate students from the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy who spent the entire spring semester studying the Safe Routes to School program and developing their own school travel plans.

All their work can be seen in a new School Travel Plans section under the website’s Resources tab.  There you can read what a school travel plan is, the reasons to have one and how it can qualify your school for certifications, grants and funding.  Each element of the plan is explained and accompanied with links to the necessary documents.  There are even guidelines for what information is needed and what can be added to go the extra mile.

All the documents are available for download as either PDFs or MSWord files, making them easy to distribute and easy to edit for local concerns.  Lay out a roadmap for progress and implementation with the Goals and Actions Template.  Assign roles and responsibilities with the Working Group Template.  Get parental input with the Parent Survey.  And track how students are getting to school with the Student Travel Mode Survey.  Everything you need to build a great plan is already there.

Even an archive of existing New Jersey school travel plans is provided.  They are a great resource for guidance and inspiration in crafting your own plan.

A major highlight is the custom walkability and bikeability assessments, which comprise the best elements of assessments nationwide for use in New Jersey.  The forms are made up of eight or nine simple multiple-choice questions with extra space for elaboration.   Keeping assessments concise is crucial to making the process comfortable and manageable for volunteers, and giving them areas for additional comments ensures important observations don’t go unreported.

The assessment page also explains what walkability and bikeability assessments are, how they fit into the plan and the best way to conduct them.  While the assessments are available for download individually, the website explains the value in assessing both walking and biking conditions.

Another incredibly helpful addition is the interactive mapping tool.  The tool generates and prints Google maps at both the neighborhood and site scales.  All you have to do is type in the name and address of the school.

The neighborhood scale is perfect for recording student walking and biking routes and for marking neighborhood assets and obstacles along the way.  The site scale is great for marking out more detailed elements around the school, such as entrances, drop off points, bus zones and bike parking.  Whereas both are useful for walkability and bikeability assessments, the neighborhood scale is the one that should be used for mapping out the routes volunteers will follow.

All the tools described above work for three reasons:

  1. The iterative student led studio environment tested and refined each and every detail focusing on the individuals who will use them, ensuring these tools can be used by anyone and for any school in New Jersey.
  2. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  The basic travel plan structure is already built into the material, so you can go straight into adding content.
  3. They were designed with participation in mind.  Having a plan for involving students, parents, administrators, other stakeholders and the public not only improves the quality of the plan, but ensures its implementation and long-term success.

Access to the new website will facilitate more school travel plan development statewide.  The quality and efficiency of the tools will in turn lead to better plans with less time and energy needed to produce them.  That translates to big smiles on the faces of healthy, active and safe school children in New Jersey.