Santa Monica City and school district have a rare opportunity to work together to make our City’s streets safer for children and families going to school. But they only have a few months to act before this once-in-a-generation opportunity passes.
School construction projects create a once-in-a-generation opportunity for safe streets improvements
Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board Policy 3540 states that “The Board of Education desires to provide for the safe and efficient transportation of students to and from school as necessary to ensure student access to the educational program, promote regular attendance and reduce tardiness.”
The most efficient form of student transportation is biking and walking to school. But the District could take more actions to make biking and walking to Santa Monica schools safer. The District could work with the City of Santa Monica to implement Safe Routes to School improvements that the City lacks staffing and funding to implement after cutting this program in 2020 when students moved to online school.
Santa Monica voters approved a $485 million school facilities bond in 2018. SMMUSD will soon start construction projects at Grant, Franklin, McKinley, Roosevelt, and Will Rogers elementary schools. These construction projects are the perfect time to update and implement previously-identified Safe Routes to School improvements at these schools to keep kids safe as traffic patterns change and construction traffic increases. Measure SMS allows bond proceeds to be used for traffic safety improvements.
Quick-build safety improvements found throughout the Westside and Santa Monica are extremely cost-effective because they bring immediate safety benefits without needing to reconfigure roadway infrastructure. Implementing Safe Routes to School Improvements is an important part of regional and local plans to promote biking and walking and reduce traffic congestion and emissions. So these improvements bring dual benefits: improving kids’ safety and reducing environmental impacts.
The SMMUSD Board can bring these safety and environmental benefits to Santa Monica by amending board policy to specify that the District will coordinate with the City of Santa Monica to fund quick-build safe routes to school improvements as part of campus development projects.
The SMMUSD Board can also direct staff to develop traffic and circulation plans for drop off and pick up at each school site to accommodate increasing rates of walking and biking to school enabled by two recent trends. The first is that work-from-home options available to many white collar workers means parents don’t have to get to an office after dropping kids off at school – making walking or biking the preferred option. The second trend is greater variety and affordability for family and cargo e-bikes, a trend which started prior to 2020 but accelerated during the pandemic as more people turned to bicycles for neighborhood mobility.
The City of Santa Monica is missing out on funding and opportunities to make streets safer for children
I think most parents and voters in Santa Monica would agree that the City’s focus on “clean and safe” should include street safety for students going to school. To achieve a vision for “clean and safe” that includes the safety of children walking or biking to school, the City of Santa Monica should restore the Safe Routes to School Program staffing and provide budget resources for additional quick-build safety improvements in critical areas outside of school zones.
Without Safe Routes to School program staff, the City of Santa Monica will lose out on a windfall state and federal grant funding for safe routes to schools made possible by the state’s 2022 budget surplus and the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In addition to losing out on state and federal money, the City is missing out on safe streets opportunities enabled by new state legislation.
No member of the City Council or City staff wants to tell a parent that their child was struck by a vehicle on their way to school because restoring the Safe Routes to School staffing and budget wasn’t a priority. But they may find themselves in this difficult position if the City passes the opportunity to restore this program in the 2023-24 biennial budget.