Canal Winchester explores safe routes

Identifying and encouraging safe, accessible routes to school for walkers and bicycle riders is the focus of a new Canal Winchester task force comprised of residents, village staff, and school administrators.

The five E’s

Canal Winchester Public Works Director Matt Peoples said the village was one of the first in the Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) District Six to receive a $2,000 grant for the Safe Routes to School plan and begin the process of designing a School Travel Plan.

"The ODOT grant is to write a School Travel Plan to promote kids walking to school," reported Peoples. "This is a nationwide deal and is being encouraged all over the United States to get more kids physically active and to get kids to walk to school. The plan looks at five E’s-education, engineering, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation. The study involves a lot of data collection, such as identifying barriers, and Gender Road is probably one of the biggest barriers. We’re keying in on the Winchester and Indian Trail campus."

Peoples said the total cost of the project is $15,000 and the village is kicking in the additional $13,000 in order to complete the plan at no cost to the Canal Winchester school district. The engineering firm EMH&T will gather and assemble the report, which must be sent to ODOT by May 2, 2009.

"The task force is starting to meet now," stated Peoples. "The plan involves a lot of data and technical writing by EMH&T, who will also go out and do a walking study in order to identify barriers for students walking and riding their bikes, identify solutions, and suggest counter measures.

"Our goal is to see what barriers we have and suggest countermeasures to those barriers. The National Center for Safe Routes to School (NCSRS) saw that we were one of the first in district six to get funding in place and they selected us to be a case study, so we’re kind of like a guinea pig for the area."

Filling a need

According to the center, there is a nationwide need to provide options allowing students to walk and bicycle safely to school. Many communities struggle with traffic congestion around schools and motor vehicle emissions pollute the environment. At the same time, the NCSRS reports that children in general engage in less physical activity, which contributes to a growing obesity epidemic.

"At first glance, these problems may seem to be separate issues," contends the NCSRS, "but Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs can address all these challenges through a coordinated action plan. SRTS programs use a variety of education, engineering, and enforcement strategies to entice more children to walk and bicycle. They have grown popular in recent years in response to problems created by an expanding built environment, a growing reliance on motor vehicles for student transportation, and with more recent development of federal and state funding of SRTS programs."

In Phoenix, Ariz., Safe Routes to School maps were created by the city, parents, and the schools and used to recommend walking routes and crossing locations. The maps also helped city leaders identify sidewalk repair priorities. At an Illinois elementary school, students receive prizes for completing a frequent walker card. In East Cleveland, residents modified one of the most dangerous communities in Ohio to a more pedestrian-friendly environment by encouraging changes in traffic signalization, signage, and crosswalks.

The national center emphasizes implications of SRTS can be far reaching and points out programs can improve safety, not just for children, but for the community of pedestrians and bicyclists as well. The environment also benefits by a reduction in traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.

"For communities concerned about traffic jams, unsafe walking conditions, physically inactive lifestyles and overall quality of life, SRTS programs can be an effective point for tackling these issues. Safe Routes to School programs are part of the solution to increase physical activity and improve unsafe walking and bicycling conditions. It may also improve air quality. The school setting provides a unique opportunity to create an environment that encourages walking and bicycling as a way to travel to and from school."

 

(Canal Winchester school officials could not be reached for comment on the program.)

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