In Spring 2012, sixteen graduate students from the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University spent an entire semester studying the Safe Routes to School program, developing their own school travel plans, and coming up with new and refined tools.

The end result: producing and implementing school travel plans is even easier, which means safer, healthier and happier school children in New Jersey.

The Bloustein School is the nation’s third highest ranked urban planning program.[1]  As a requirement for the Master’s degree, immersive studio courses draw on students’ diverse skills to produce deliverables for a real world client.

For this studio, student Master’s degree concentrations varied from transportation to community planning and from urban design to educational facilities planning.  That wealth of experience was crucial to the success of the project.

Leigh Ann Von Hagen, AICP, Manager of the New Jersey Safe Routes to School Resource Center, oversaw the studio.

To gain a detailed understanding of SRTS in New Jersey, students engaged in months of background research and site observations and gained expert insight from guest speakers including representatives from Keep Middlesex Moving TMA, HART TMA, RBA Group, NJDHSS, and NJDOT.  That knowledge informed the development of bikeability and walkability assessments, which were tested in the field at four New Brunswick public schools.  In the same manner, existing travel plan resources were refined and new resources drafted integrating the best elements from examples nationwide.

Eventually, the studio work constituted draft travel plans for Woodrow Wilson Elementary, Lord Stirling Community School, Livingston Elementary and New Brunswick Middle School.  Those four schools now have an advantage in competing for funding and a roadmap for improving the walk or ride to school.

The updated resources were formatted to guide travel plan development step by step with easily filled out documents and checklists.  Additionally, the tools help track progress over time, ensuring that efforts have a lasting impact.  Each document can be downloaded individually from a new user friendly website. Documents include:

By creating a general structure for school travel plans, these new tools facilitate travel plan development.  The uniform format will foster cohesiveness across municipal boundaries while preserving the flexibility to address local concerns.

The studio’s achievements translate to an even more effective statewide Safe Routes to School program that improves the lives of children.  The continuing involvement of Bloustein students holds great promise for the future of SRTS in New Jersey.

For more on the new SRTS website, tools and resources see Part II, to follow next week.

Guest Speakers were:

Elise Bremer-Nei, NJ Dept. of Transportation Safe Routes to School Coordinator

John Stevenson, HART TMA

Peter Bilton, KMM TMA

Janet Heroux, Physical Activity Specialist, NJ Department of Health and Senior Services

Mike Dannemiller, P.E., The RBA Group

Wansoo Im, Community Participatory Mapping, VERTICES

Studio participants were:

Angela Bellisio, Matthew Craig, Michael Driscoll, Kyle Gebhart, Betsy Harvey, Jonathan Hawkins, Frances Hsia, Kwan Hui, Andrew Kay, Dorothy Kièu Lê, Elle Xuan Lu, David Nelson, Kimberly O’Neill, Christine Orthmeyer, Sofia Recalde and Andrew Tivey

The studio’s final presentation can be viewed at the following URL under  ‘2012’ ‘ Safe Routes to School’

[1] Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs 2012