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Brief: Safe Routes to School (SRTS) in Minnesota

The information in this brief is intended only to provide educational information.

This brief summarizes findings from a CHOICES Learning Collaborative Partnership (LCP) simulation model and cost-effectiveness analysis of the expansion of Safe Routes to School (SRTS) initiatives in elementary and middle schools in Minnesota. SRTS aims to help children safely walk and bicycle to school through infrastructure improvements, education, and promotional activities.

The Issue

Research shows that physical activity helps kids grow up at a healthy weight and reduces the risk of future chronic disease;1 however, the majority of kids do not get enough daily physical activity.2 Without action, a majority of today’s children will have obesity at age 353 with substantial financial implications as the costs for treating obesity-related health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes can total over $3 billion per year in Minnesota.4

Every child deserves the opportunity to be healthy, and all kids need opportunities to be physically active, no matter where they live or where they go to school. Over recent decades, the declining rates of using physically active transportation modes like walking and bicycling to school may have contributed to lower than recommended levels of physical activity among youth.5 In Minnesota, only 12.3% of students walk or bicycle to school.6 However, SRTS initiatives are an effective strategy to increase physical activity by promoting safe walking and bicycling opportunities.7

About Safe Routes to School

Minnesota SRTS initiatives are supported by a combination of state and federal transportation funding. This analysis assumes a continued allocation of $1 million per biennium to support the implementation of SRTS initiatives in Minnesota, in addition to a one-time increase of $6 million in state funding. As a portion of these state funds could be used as a match to leverage $2.6 million in additional federal funding, this investment would increase total funding support by $8.6 million. The expanded funding would support individual SRTS project implementation costs for infrastructure, planning and construction, and state program administration, including increased time in program coordination and project selection.

Comparing Costs and Outcomes

CHOICES cost-effectiveness analysis compared the costs and outcomes over a 10-year time horizon (2017-2027) of expanding SRTS in one biennium with the costs and outcomes associated with not expanding the program. Based on prior program expenditures, we estimated that 96 schools would implement a new SRTS program with the increase in state and leveraged federal funds. Additional research suggests that 5.5% of Minnesota’s students would shift from cars to active travel modes after SRTS implementation,6 a 45% increase in the current active transportation mode share in Minnesota. This shift would result in some projected cost savings due to reduced vehicle use for school transportation trips.

Implementing Safe Routes to School in Minnesota is an investment in the future. By the end of 2027:
If Safe Routes to School was implemented in Minnesota, then 46,400 children would attend schools with safer transportation environments. Students who walk or bike to school would spend 47 more active minutes per week, and $3.6 million would be saved in costs related to reduced vehicle travel.

Conclusions and Implications

Over 46,000 students in Minnesota would benefit from safer transportation environments. Investing in SRTS initiatives helps children accumulate the recommended levels of physical activity; on average, those who start walking or bicycling to school engage in 47 more minutes of physical activity during the school week. We also estimate 6 fewer cases of obesity in 2027 as students shift to more physically active travel. There are likely positive benefits from physical activity related to improved bone health, aerobic and muscular fitness, cognition and academic performance1 that are not quantified in this analysis, but are important outcomes for children’s education and well-being.

The 10-year total intervention implementation costs, including projected cost savings due to reduced vehicle use, are estimated to be $6,550,000. In Minnesota, one-third of SRTS implementation costs could be offset by savings associated with reduced vehicle travel that include $607,000 in environment-related cost savings. Additionally, families whose students start walking or bicycling and thus drive less for school transportation trips could average $985 in savings over 10 years.

Strategic SRTS initiatives may reduce the risk of pedestrian and bicycle injury.8 We estimated that there is a 78% probability that the SRTS program as conceptualized for Minnesota would not result in additional injuries, even though more students may be walking or bicycling than in the past. Additionally, we estimate that there is a 66% probability that the SRTS program in Minnesota could prevent injury-related healthcare costs. Investing in SRTS projects that make walking and bicycling to school safer and easier opens opportunities for those families who want to allow their child to walk or bicycle but cannot because of safety concerns.9

These multiple benefits reinforce the importance of investing in effective strategies that promote accessible, safe, and convenient walking and bicycling options to improve the health of our students and the environments of our local communities.


  1. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018. Accessed September 7, 2018.
  2. Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative. 2016-2017 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) data query. Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health supported by Cooperative Agreement U59MC27866 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau (HRSA MCHB). Retrieved [02/08/2019] from www.childhealthdata.org. CAHMI: www.cahmi.org.
  3. Ward Z, Long M, Resch S, Giles C, Cradock A, Gortmaker S. Simulation of Growth Trajectories of Childhood Obesity into Adulthood. New England Journal of Medicine. 2017; 377(22): 2145-2153.
  4. Trogdon JG, Finkelstein EA, Feagan, W,  Cohen JW. State- and payer-specific estimates of annual medical expenditures attributable to obesity. Obesity. 2012; 20(1), 214-220.
  5. McDonald, NC. Active transportation to school: trends among US schoolchildren, 1969–2001. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2007; 32(6), 509-516
  6. Pelletier J. (2018). Minnesota Student Travel Tally Data from 2011-2015. [Unpublished Raw data].
  7. McDonald C, Steiner RL, Lee C, Smith TR, Zhu X, & Yang Y. Impact of the Safe Routes to School Program on Walking and Bicycling, Journal of the American Planning Association. 2014; 80:2, 153-167
  8. DiMaggio C, Li G. Effectiveness of a safe routes to school program in preventing school-aged pedestrian injury. Pediatrics. 2013; 131(2), 290-296.
  9. McDonald NC, Aalborg AE. Why Parents Drive Children to School: Implications for Safe Routes to School Programs, Journal of the American Planning Association. 2009; 75:3, 331-342, DOI: 10.1080/01944360902988794
Suggested Citation:

Pelletier J, Reiner JR, Barrett JL, Cradock AL, Giles CM. Minnesota: Safe Routes to School (SRTS) {Issue Brief}. Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), St. Paul, MN, and the CHOICES Learning Collaborative Partnership at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA; March 2019.

 The design for this brief and its graphics were developed by Molly Garrone, MA and partners at Burness.

This issue brief was developed at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) through participation in the Childhood Obesity Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Study (CHOICES) Learning Collaborative Partnership. This brief is intended for educational use only. Funded by The JPB Foundation. Results are those of the authors and not the funders.

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