Mar 3, 2013

Greenville pursuing Safer Routes to School

BY RYAN BERRY 
MANAGING EDITOR 
GREENVILLE – A partnership is forming with the City of Greenville and Greenville City Schools to create a safer walk or bike ride to school. On Feb. 27, a Safe Route to Schools Volunteer Advisory Committee made up of representatives from the city, school district, and public met with Mike Henderson of Mote & Assoc. to begin the process of creating safer routes.

Safe Routes to School is a program offered through the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) that could lead to federal grants for a wide variety of projects from infrastructure to safety education. The program is geared toward K-8 schools. Three schools in the county have already received funding from the program or are in the process of requesting grant money. They include Tri-Village, Versailles and Ansonia.

Over the next several months, the school district and the city will be compiling information to submit to ODOT. ODOT will then offer suggestions on areas that need attention. With four schools housing K-8 students in Greenville, the district could submit up to four requests for grants. Each school would have its own Safe Routes to School plan. The projects could fall within a two-mile radius of the school, which means the radiuses overlap in some areas of the city.

Information needed by ODOT includes data for students in each school (i.e. addresses, walkers, non-walkers, and safety concerns from parents regarding walking routes), list of current activities that encourages walking and biking to school, and accident report for areas around the schools.

The committee will also address the five E’s of the Safe Route to School Program:

* Engineering strategies to create safer environments for walking and bicycling to school through improvements to the infrastructure surrounding schools, such as reducing motor vehicle speeds and conflicts with pedestrians and bicyclists and establishing safer and fully accessible crossings, walkways, trails and bikeways.

* Education programs that target children, parents, caregivers and neighbors and teach how to walk and bicycle safely and informing drivers on how to drive more safely around pedestrians and bicyclists.

* Enforcement strategies help increase the safety of children bicycling or walking to school by helping to change unsafe behaviors of drivers, as well as pedestrians and bicyclists.

* Encouragement activities work to promote walking and bicycling to school to children, parents and community members.

* Evaluation is an important component of the program that can be incorporated into each of the other Es. Collecting information before and after program activities or projects are implement allow communities to track progress and outcomes and provide information to guide program development.

It will be the committee’s task to come up with a plan of action and prioritize the needs for each of the schools. Some of the infrastructure needs may be put on hold until the district and voters determine if a new K-8 building will be built. The school district is expected to decide by the end of March if an issue will be put on the ballot in August. Once voters approve a new building, it will take three to four years to complete the construction. If approved by voters, the committee could begin to address infrastructure needs in a two-mile radius of one of the existing schools that would be directed toward the new building on State Route 121.

According to Henderson, the information gathering is expected to take six to nine months and then ODOT will return with its suggestions. The committee could be ready to ask for funds next year.

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