Safe Routes to Schools

Thanh -- May 19th, 2010

This is a continuation of a series of posts for Bike Month.

Each year, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) makes available Safe Routes to School grant funding to assist “localities and schools in the development of plans, activities, and infrastructure improvements to make bicycling and walking to school a safe and appealing transportation option for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.” The grant requires applicants to submit a School Travel Plan, and then once the Plan is approved, applicants are eligible then to submit  grant application to request funding for a program or project identified as needed in the Travel Plan.

2010 grant recipients were notified in April and recipients in our area included City of Harrisonburg’s Waterman Elementary School, Town of Timberville’s Plains Elementary School, and Rockingham County’s Mountain View Elementary School (Disclosure: The author of this story was a partner in the Waterman Elementary Grant Application).

Waterman Elementary School was awarded funds for three grants totaling $499,798 for improvements including:

  • Sidewalks on one side of Third Street between Collicello Street to Stuart Street, Stuart Street between Third Street to Chicago Avenue,
  • A pedestrian signal and crosswalks at Third Street and Virginia Avenue,
  • Sidewalks on both sides of Virginia Avenue between 2nd and 5th Streets,
  • Sidewalks on the west side of Chicago Avenue between 2nd Street and Rockingham Drive Trail, and
  • Shoulder widening to accommodate new bicycle lanes on Chicago Avenue between Gay Street and Rockingham Drive Trail.

Plains Elementary School was awarded a grant amount of $202,376 for:

  • Sidewalks on American Legion Drive near the intersection of Lone Pine Drive and American Legion to the Plains Elementary School entrance, and
  • School flashing beacons about 400 ft on either side of the school entrance.

And Mountain View Elementary School was awarded three grants in the sum of $499,898 primarily for:

  • Sidewalks on Erickson Avenue from Route 33 to Pine Oak Drive,
  • Install pedestrian signals at the intersection of Route 33 and Erickson Avenue,
  • Sidewalks on Route 33 from Erickson Avenue to Belmont Drive, and
  • Sidewalks on school property from the Erickson Avenue and Route 33 intersection to the existing school sidewalk.

The Safe Routes to School Program is a federally-funded program created under Section 1404 of the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

As written in SAFETEA-LU, the purpose of the SRTS program to:

* Enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school

* Make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative, thereby encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age

* Facilitate the planning, development, and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution in the vicinity of schools

Each of the grant applications were made strong by the collaborative efforts of local government staff, school teachers and principals, parents, police, and local advocacy organizations. For the Waterman Elementary School grant, partners included the City of Harrisonburg, RMH Community Health, New Community Project, and Safe Kids of the Central Shenandoah Valley with letters of support from the School Board, the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Metropolitan Organization, former delegate Matt Lohr, Waterman Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, City of Harrisonburg’s Transportation Safety Commission, and the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition.

This is the second Safe Routes to School grant received by the City of Harrisonburg. The first one was announced in 2008 for improvements around Keister Elementary School. Construction of sidewalks and installation of pedestrian signals and crosswalks around this area are expected to begin this Summer 2010.

Waterman Elementary Principal Linda McCormick greeting her  students participating in Walk to School Day.
Waterman Elementary Principal Linda McCormick greeting her students participating in Walk to School Day.

Some interesting information collected by the Waterman Elementary School SRTS Task Force while compiling the school’s Travel Plan included:

  • Of the 396 students that attended Waterman Elementary School in 2008-2009 year, 120 students live less than 0.5 miles from the school, 162 students live between 0.5 to 1.0 mile from school, 61 students live between 1.0 mile to 2.0 miles from school, and 53 students live more than 2 miles from school.
  • Surveyed in January 2009, only about 9 students walked to school, 2 students biked, 211 students took the school bus, 137 students took a family vehicle, and 9 students carpooled.
  • Surveyed in October 2009, 68 students walked, 13 students biked, 239 students took the school bus and 75 students took a family vehicle.
  • Many parents (45.8%) who returned the Parent Survey said improvements to sidewalks and pathways and safety of intersections and crossings (50%) would affect their decision to let their child walk/bike to/from school.
  • 22.9% of parents said that having adults to walk/bike with their children to/from school would affect their decision to let their child walk/bike to school.

At Waterman Elementary School, there are 6 families in one neighborhood and 3 families in another neighborhood who have been talking about organizing Walking School Buses and Bike Trains, where their families will get together and parents will take turns each day walking or biking a group of children to school by picking up other neighborhood kids along the way to school. They hope to start the walking school buses and bike trains this Spring before school lets out and continue them next school year.

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One Response to “Safe Routes to Schools”

  1. Dany Fleming says:

    The city owes a lot of thanks to the amazing work of Cindy Reeves at RMH. She’s been tireless in acquiring the funds and in supporting walking programs.

    Keister Elementary has also been promoting walking to school the last several years and it’s been a fantastic program. Great exercise, kids enjoy the walking/bike riding, parents meet and greet each other and the school day gets off to a healthy start.

    Keister’s Safe Routes funds will soon be going towards sidewalks and cross-walk improvements on South Ave., Maryland Ave, High St and Main St. It’s a very significant safety project for parents.

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