Keeping school routes safe

By Sandi Latimer
Staff Writer

The city of Columbus has been chosen to host the 2016 Safe Routes to School conference.

The announcement of the fifth biennial convention was made Feb. 4 in the lobby of Valleyview Elementary School, which benefits from the Safe Routes project. Several speakers at the news conference made comments about the project which provided sidewalks in front of the school.

The three-day convention, to be held April 5-7, 2016, at the Hilton Columbus, is expected to draw between 600 and 700 people. It is co-sponsored by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership and the National Center for Safe Routes to School.

“Columbus was chosen for its efforts at providing safe places to walk and bike as well as its shopping and entertainment venues,” said Kate Moening, field services manager of Safe Routes to School National Partnership.

Safe Routes to School is an international movement to create safe, convenient and fun opportunities for children to bicycle and walk to and from school, while playing a critical role in providing more physical activity and enhancing traffic safety.

“I grew up in (the Cleveland suburb of) Berea and walked to and from school every day,” Moening said.

Another person who walked to and from school for many years was City Council member Michelle Mills, who noted she used that time to communicate with her mother.

“Walking is a healthful way to start the day,” she said. “Having sidewalks and safe places to walk keeps the fabric of the community together.”

She said she and her mother would just chat as they walked to and from school.

“It provides a lot of family time, and social and group communication” Mills said.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has been working on Safe Routes to School since 2005 and more than 500 communities have been involved,” said Julie Walcoff, ODOT’s bicycle pedestrian and Safe Routes to School program manager.

“We’ve spent $16 million and 78 of the 88 counties have projects,” she said.

Most of that money was spent on infrastructure, but some of it went into educational programs, teaching children safe habits of walking and bicycling.

The project that goes in front of the Valleyview Elementary School is part of the Camp Chase Trail that is being worked on in the westside of the city. Its completion will be the final link in the Ohio-Erie Trail that is a multi-use trail from the Ohio River at Cincinnati to Lake Erie at Cleveland.

Although the convention is more than a year away, co-sponsors will be working to get people interested in the program. Attendees will be representatives of state departments of transportation, planners, elected officials, and community leaders. The conference provides an opportunity for individuals, agencies and organizations to network, engage in educational opportunities, become inspired, and form partnerships to enhance their Safe Routes work.

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