Implementation of Safe Routes to School Infrastructure on an Unprecedented Scale in Austin, TX


In 2016, the City of Austin passed a Mobility Bond that dedicated $720M for transportation improvements, $24M of which was dedicated to projects that improve safety for kids walking and biking to school. The bond symbolized public recognition of a vicious cycle in Austin: without access to safe routes for walking or biking to school, more families were driving and demand for school busing was consistently growing. This was leading to worsening congestion and safety around schools, and lower physical activity levels for kids. With only a few years to identify, prioritize, design, and construct hundreds of projects around Austin, the project team launched a mammoth planning effort that, over 1.5 years, included a systematic infrastructure audit of 137 schools in 7 different school districts. The project resulted in more than 4,600 recommendations for new sidewalks, intersection improvements, trails, bikeways, and other connections. The team then used a data-driven methodology to prioritize projects for implementation, providing an unbiased assessment of which projects would yield the greatest benefits for Austin residents. Last, the team developed planning-level cost estimates for all 4,600 projects, allowing staff to also consider the cost-benefit of potential projects prior to implementation. Most cities tackle Safe Routes to School audits a few schools or neighborhoods at a time, which can stretch the effort out over many years. Slow or sporadic implementation over time can breed public frustration and mistrust. This session will explain how SRTS infrastructure assessments can be scaled up in a systematic way. Participants will receive a flash drive containing resources from Austin’s project that can be repurposed, including the audit form used to conduct field work, the City’s SRTS infrastructure toolkit that specifies appropriate treatments for school settings, and more. Rolling Implementation: To meet the timeline of the bond funding, construction needed to begin before planning was complete. This session will explore the process used to phase field work and prioritize projects, allowing implementation to begin within 6 months of project launch. It will cover the process used to ensure frequent coordination between the City departments responsible for planning, design, and construction. Equity: Austin is a richly diverse City: more than 35% of the population is Hispanic, 6% of households don’t have a vehicle, and a notable portion of parents in the City’s 7 school districts don’t use English as their primary language. The City had a strong commitment to equity on this project. This session will showcase the analysis, prioritization, and engagement methods that helped ensure that people from all backgrounds had a voice and that priority projects will benefit the people who need them most. Public Engagement: Half-way through the project, our engagement methods weren’t generating the results we wanted in terms of public participation. We scrapped our original game plan and developed a new approach that involved attending over 50 existing community events. Participation quadrupled and we ultimately engaged with over 1,000 people either in-person or via an online map hosted in English and Spanish.

Presented by

Alia Anderson Alia Anderson, Toole Design Group

Alia is the Director of Planning at Toole Design, a national consulting firm that specializes in multimodal transportation. Alia leads multimodal transportation planning projects and helps oversee the company’s talented team of planners. Alia’s experience includes working with local governments, developers, metropolitan planning organizations, transit agencies, community advocates, and other partners to conceive and implement pedestrian, bicycle and Complete Streets projects. Alia has worked on active transportation master plans, Safe Routes to School programs, transit access studies and related projects in dozens of communities around the United States. Before joining Toole Design, Alia worked for the Urban Land Institute where she ran technical assistance panels and authored reports on local land use and redevelopment issues. Alia also worked for the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, where she served as an author on numerous reports for the Federal Transit Administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and local government and philanthropic clients. Alia has a Master’s Degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a BA from the University of Virginia. She is a nationally certified Safe Routes to School course instructor and served as chair of the the National Capital Chapter Board for the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals.