‘Safe Routes to School’ Program Explained to Savanna City Council
By MICHAEL MILLER | For The Prairie Advocate News
SAVANNA – The bitter cold made the attendance a very sparse one, but Community Funding and Planning’s Sharon Pepin soldiered on nonetheless and gave an informative presentation defining and detailing the “Safe Routes to School.” This is a U.S. Department of Transportation program that will be initiated for the West Carroll School District Primary School in Savanna. Pepin made the presentation at a brief meeting at 333 Chicago Avenue in Savanna, on Wednesday, January 23rd.
Three Savanna City Council members attended, Gary Scott Law, and Ray Skiles, as well as one audience member. Pepin gave a Power Point presentation that lasted approximately 30 minutes.
Pepin opened by listing some of the problems associated with fewer numbers of children walking to school in the mornings, including air pollution from added vehicles on the road and lack of exercise and health issues for the kids. A survey indicated that in 2009 only five percent of Savanna Primary students walked or biked to school, with 40 percent getting to school via carpool (not counting the large numbers of kids bussed).
Pepin noted that that one reason this has changed is that schools are no longer centrally located in communities, due to consolidation. Though distance is obviously a big factor, even the kids within a mile or so of school often are driven, she said.
Some of the most common barriers to walking to school include traffic danger, adverse weather, fear of crime and volume and speed of vehicles. Wacker Road has a lot of truck traffic, Pepin said, and this accounts for the high numbers that latter category scored in the Savanna survey. Also listed were the conditions of the sidewalks and the safety of intersections and crossings.
Walking to school can help address the major problems of child inactivity which can lead to health issues like obesity and diabetes, she continued.
The program is more than just the physical construction of a sidewalk. Pepin said that this step can be just one part of an overall approach to motivate kids’ to be more healthy. A “walking bus” is one way to spark exercise; this is where a group of parents and kids join in the walk to school by a linking human chain which is both safe and healthy for the kids.
Increased air quality is also a goal of the program. Obviously if less cars are on the road, that’s less toxic fumes being pumped into the air, thus more breathable air for everyone.
Better sidewalks will benefit the community at large, not just students, Pepin noted, while discussing the many benefits of the ‘safe routes’ program.
Evaluation of the scope of the problem was done with the parents’ survey, as well as input from teachers. The engineering portion of the program is the physical installation of the sidewalk on Wacker Road, and enforcement will most likely occur in conjunction with the police department and new signage. Encouragement and education will come from the West Carroll Primary School which will provide educational materials about the program. Follow-up evaluation (in the form of more parents and teacher surveys) will come after (if and when) the necessary grant monies are received and the program has been initiated, to review what is working or not working.
The Safe Routes to School program is funded through a “Map 21” program. Pepin said that it’s vital to stay in touch with the folks who administer this program.
Pepin listed the goals for the West Carroll program as follows. Increase public safety, increase amount of kids that walk or bike to school, install a sidewalk to facilitate this (which will be handicapped accessible) and to increase awareness of the program and its benefits.
Pepin presented a map of what the project will physically look like for Savanna. They envision a sidewalk to be installed on the north side of Wacker Road, all the way to the Elkay facility. Pedestrian crossing will be present, perhaps with solar powered crossing signals, which will be available 24/7. The school will not have to pick up as many students when the sidewalks are installed.
The program is an annual program, and other areas of concern might be addressed in the future, Pepin said. It is a $200,000.00 project with the maximum grant amount available being $160,000.00. The grant is an 80/20 split, making the City of Savanna’s portion around $40,000.00 if obtained. Right now the project looks to be a bit more expensive than that $200,000.00 but Pepin said there are a couple of years to hopefully accumulate more funds to accommodate the project. She expected to hear back in June about the viability of the grant.
Construction will most likely not occur until the summer of 2016.