Although Colorado has long been viewed as an outdoor mecca for those engaged in recreational pursuits such as skiing, mountain biking and hiking, only one in four Colorado youth get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, due in part to the safety challenges many youth face walking and biking in their communities, especially to and from school. Because dollars for the federal Safe Routes to School program have been dramatically reduced and the program itself rolled into a program that funds other non-school active transportation projects as well, a coalition of Colorado health and transportation parties successfully established a state-based program.
“Colorado had received a lot of grants from the federal program, and if it was going to go away, we wanted to make sure that the good it did continued in some way,” says Erin Hackett, government relations director with the American Heart Association in Colorado, which led the coalition that worked to create the program.
The coalition worked to highlight the benefits and demand for the program in Colorado among cities and towns, schools, and health and active transportation interests. Chief among the benefits cited was the safety of students.
“Public safety was clearly one of our strongest arguments with the public, with communities and with legislators,” says Susanna Mizer, senior government relations director with the American Heart Association in Colorado.
In 2014, the coalition found legislative support to introduce a bill to fund a Colorado-based Safe Routes Program with $3 million in one-time finding. Unfortunately, the funding was eventually cut to $700,000 and it could only be used for bicycle and pedestrian education initiatives in the schools.
Undeterred, the coalition returned the next year to the Legislature to support the reintroduction of legislation to provide infrastructure funding for the program. That effort stalled out when the bill was killed in the Colorado Senate’s State Affairs Committee.
Fortunately, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and his transportation director had been watching the debate over whether or not to fund the Colorado Safe Routes Program, and the important safety and health benefits it would help bring to the state. Hickenlooper, an avid supporter of biking, announced in September of last year that as part of a spending program to help increase and support bicycling in the state, he would dedicate $10 million to the Colorado Safe Routes to School Program over four years. No less than 70 percent of that funding can go to infrastructure funding – funding for safer crosswalks, sidewalks and trails.