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Village wins federal grant to enhance safety for kids

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Village children will more safely walk or bike to school within the next year, thanks to a collaborative effort between local citizens and Village government. After several years of planning and working together, the Village and a small group of parents and community members were notified last month that Yellow Springs had won a substantial federal grant that will fund a variety of local efforts to improve local sidewalks and street crossings.

“This will make things safer for kids and for everyone,” said Safe Routes To School team member and parent Deanna Newsom. “It’s not just about kids.”

For team member Sylvia Ellison, the effort is not only about safety but also public health.

“If kids have a safe way to walk or bike to school, it’s good for them health-wise,” Ellison said.

The Village received a Safe Routes to School, or SRTS, grant, which is federal money funneled through the Ohio Department of Transportation, for $308,000 for infrastructure repairs and $15,000 for non-infrastructure efforts, Village Assistant Planner Ed Amrhein announced at a recent Council meeting. The bulk of the infrastructure funds will go toward upgrading sidewalks or adding new ones, Amrhein said at the meeting, and the non-infrastructure funds will go to educational efforts.

According to Village Manager Laura Curliss this week, the next step in moving ahead is an August meeting with ODOT officials regarding the scope and timing of the project. The SRTS upgrades will probably take place in the spring and summer of 2013, she said.

The grant is the result of two years of meetings for the SRTS team, which collectively wrote and then submitted to ODOT a school travel plan that outlined the need for improved sidewalks and the scope of proposed upgrades. The group requested funding of about $328,000 and received the bulk of their request.

Dan Carrigan, of the Yellow Springs Bike Enhancement Committee, is one of the few SRTS team members who is not a parent. But for Carrigan, the effort was well worth his time as a way to benefit the whole community.

“I’m interested in this because it’s a good thing for the whole village,” he said.

Villager Kate Anderson, who is married to Carrigan, said her impetus was to benefit local children, noting that the federal SRTS program was sparked by concern over childhood obesity.

“It’s all about the kids for me, giving them every opportunity to stay healthy,” she said, stating that she’s also excited about the educational component of the effort, which will help teach children about bicycle safety.

“If we teach them when they’re young, it will have lifelong effects,” she said.

Other SRTS team members, along with Amrhein, Newsom, Anderson, Ellison and Carrigan, were Tim Tobey, student Rachel Meyer and Mark Hunter of Eggeman Engineering.

Changes coming

The SRTS travel plan’s goal is to increase by 25 percent the number of school-aged walkers and cyclists within three years following funding of the program, according to the plan.

Currently, in Yellow Springs the percentage of children who are transported to school in family vehicles is higher than the national average, according to a survey of local parents conducted by the SRTS team. About 45 percent of children nationally ride in a family vehicle to school, compared to about 55 percent of Mills Lawn students, 50 percent of McKinney School students and more than 60 percent of Antioch School students. Mills Lawn School also has a higher proportion of students living less than two miles from school than the national average as compiled by SRTS, according to the plan. About 32 percent of Mills Lawn students live within one-half mile of school and 77 percent live within two miles, the plan states. Children who live outside a .75 mile radius of the elementary school and a 1.5 mile radius for the McKinney/YSHS are eligible to be bussed to school by the school district.

The main barrier that keeps more children from walking to school is the lack of sidewalks, according to the plan, which states that sidewalks are provided on about 35 percent of the Village street network. On some streets, sidewalks are provided on only a portion of the street. Other obstacles are intersections on busy streets that are poorly identified.

To remedy these problems, the SRTS travel plan recommends the construction of a sidewalk on Fairfield Pike between Stafford and Winter Streets, along with extending sidewalks on Limestone Street and adding one on Phillips Street near Mills Lawn, with all costs covered by the SRTS funding.

Having more sidewalks would go a long way to making the village more walkable for children, according to Newsom, who lives on Fairfield Pike, where currently there is no sidewalk.

“We don’t want to be helicopter parents who don’t let the kids go anywhere, but it’s difficult if the structures are not in place, and to me that’s what the sidewalks are,” she said.

Along with more sidewalks, the SRTS travel plan recommends improving crosswalks. The changes include enhancing crosswalk markings at specific locations to “more clearly designate the crosswalk as a desirable crossing location,” adding an overhead warning sign on Dayton at Stafford Streets, and a “Yield to Pedestrian” sign on Dayton at Winter Street.

The plan also recommends adding new bike racks at all three schools, clearing shrubs and tree overhangs from sidewalks and installing a curb “bulb-out” for the east crosswalk crossing on Dayton at Stafford Street and the east crosswalk on Dayton at Winter Streets, along with repairing sidewalk and wheelchair ramps.

Along with infrastructure improvements, the grant will fund educational efforts aimed at enhancing children’s safety when walking or biking to school. These efforts include creating a suggested walk/bike route map, creating walk/bike-to-school groups and participating in the International Bike/Walk to School day each October. Other possible efforts include fundraising activities that involve walking and biking and enhancing school wellness and safety programs.

A group effort

The SRTS funding is the result of a multi-year effort by villagers and Village government, according to Carrigan of the Bike Enhancement Committee. Amrhein alerted the group to the possibility of receiving SRTS funding and “we as the Bike Enhancement committee adopted it as a project,” Carrigan said. From that beginning, several committee members joined with local parents and other stakeholders to form the SRTS team that met monthly for two years to create the travel plan that won the funding.

Along with creating the travel plan, the process involved tapping the public for advice and recommendations. The public input process, which began in the 2009–10 school year, involved a parent survey and three rounds of school travel tally surveys, along with a public meeting and interviews with various stakeholders, according to the plan.

The SRTS team has worked together well, according to Ellison.

“It’s a wonderful team of people to work with and I’m glad to continue working with them,” she said.


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