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Bozeman revives Safe Routes to School

Poster for a Bozeman Bike Rodeo, a Safe Routes to School community event.
City of Bozeman
City of Bozeman
Poster for a Bozeman Bike Rodeo, a Safe Routes to School community event.

What if a single strategy could prevent chronic disease, increase physical activity, and reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and air pollution? Hopes are high that Bozeman’s revived Safe Routes to School could do just that.

Nationally, 10 to 14 percent of car trips during morning rush hour are for school travel, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Candace Mastel is with Bozeman’s Department of Transportation. She says Bozeman and surrounding communities are no different.

“They use the personal motor vehicle for the drop off in many cases for a multitude of reasons, not just convenience, but also might be where they live,” she says. “And in Montana, that could be a more rural area. They're coming into town to drop their kids off. It's a trend that is definitely around the country.”

Safe Routes to School is a national initiative to promote walking and biking to schools. It looks different in different communities and works through infrastructure improvements, enforcement, tools, safety education, and incentives.

Bozeman’s Safe Routes lapsed some years ago, but a recent push by the City of Bozeman, the school district, the Western Transportation Institute, and community businesses and organizations is bringing it back.

This year, Bozeman Parks & Recreation staff hosted more than a dozen walking school bus events where students gathered at one spot and biked or walked to school with an adult. Two bike rodeos provided free helmets, bike decorating, and giveaways and helped with riding skills and bike maintenance. High school students even created a traffic-calming art installation at a busy intersection.

However, funding is dwindling. Billings and Missoula fund their Safe Routes through Metropolitan Planning Organizations, which Bozeman is actively developing. In the meantime, Mastel hopes families will turn out for Safe Routes community events and look for ways to get involved.

“I think it's too important to not help the next generation of users of our transportation system to feel comfortable with sidewalks and trails and getting to parks and schools and we should make it safe for them to do that,” Mastel says. “That's our responsibility. So, I think it's important to get as many people involved and aware of this as possible. And then you know, when we're gone, they can have a better place. Right?”

Sarah Kanter Brown is the producer of YPR’s Field Days. A graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, Brown has worked at newspapers and magazines nationwide.