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Safe Routes to School plan lays groundwork for healthy change

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Following more than a year of research and brainstorming about how to get more kids to bike and walk to school, Perham’s final Safe Routes to School plan was released last week.

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Prepared by West Central Initiative, the plan was put together with help and input from the schools, the city of Perham, and stakeholders like Partnership 4 Health. Student and parent surveys, along with other community input, were also taken into account.

A core group of about 15 community members met almost monthly between October 2012 and this past November to assess current safety conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists, and to come up with some tangible ideas about how to improve safety where needed.

As part of their research, the group members took note of how many kids currently walk and bike to school in Perham, they sent surveys home with students to collect parent input about why they do or do not have their kids walk or bike to school, and they looked at traffic crash and ticket data to determine safety conditions at various intersections around town.

What they found was that high traffic areas, like downtown, and busy railroad crossings present the greatest barriers to safe routes to school, and are viewed as hazards by students and parents who would otherwise support walking and biking to school.

The Safe Routes to School (SRTS) report shows that biking and walking to school has dwindled in Perham over the years. This appears to be mostly due to changing demographics in the Krauss Park area near the schools, with fewer children living in the neighborhood than there once were.

Instead, many school children today live in newer developments on the north side of town, and some on the east and west, where walking or biking to school would require traveling through high traffic areas and crossing over the railroad tracks. As such, more kids today are being driven or bussed to school – less healthy alternatives to walking or biking.

To try and bring more physical activity into kids’ lives and support active lifestyles, the SRTS committee has come up with numerous short-term and long-term solutions and improvements. Their recommendations all fit within “The 5 E’s” – education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement and evaluation.

More specifically, those recommendations include things like:

-Maintaining existing sidewalks and adding more where it would help kids get to and from school more safely.

-Expanding the existing trail system to assist in mobility and connectedness to the school and town.

-Implementing neighborhood bus pick-up and drop-off locations, as opposed to individual homes.

-Enhancing pedestrian crossings at all railroad crossings, such as with pedestrian underpasses or overpasses.

-Making key intersections more pedestrian-friendly, such as by adding pedestrian activated lights, pedestrian islands, curb extensions, crossing guards, etc.

-Creating a large public display of the city’s trail system.

-Segregating current bike lanes to improve safety, such as by painting the lanes green or red and using additional striping.

-Adding bike shelters at key locations.

-Keeping the community informed of SRTS initiatives through the local media, the school and city websites, meetings with local city and service organizations, community activities like the annual bike rodeo, and bike and pedestrian safety courses.

-Keeping the community engaged through bike/walk contests, incentives for kids who bike or walk to school, community walks and rides, a summer bike rental program and other efforts.

-Increasing traffic enforcement around the schools, especially before and after school as more kids are out walking and biking.

-Creating a safe crossing from the elementary and middle school to the Perham Area Community Center, across 2nd Ave. SW.

All of the suggestions listed in the plan are to be completed “as time/funding allows.”

The plan lays out some possible funding sources, including the national and international SRTS program, Transportation Alternatives Program, Minnesota state highway funds, Department of Natural Resources trail funding, organizations like Bikes Belong, and local sources and donations.

The plan is intended to lay the groundwork for the addition of new sidewalks and trails, as well as education and encouragement efforts on the subject of SRTS. Much work is yet to be done before any of the recommendations can be implemented.

To read the full 158-page report, which includes the results of parent surveys and more information about SRTS, visit www.wcif.org or pick up a hard copy at school or city offices.

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Marie Johnson
Marie Johnson (formerly Nitke) came to the Perham Focus after several years as the Education and Arts & Entertainment Editor at the Herald-Review of Grand Rapids, Minn. She lives in rural Ottertail with her husband, Dan, and their spunky yellow lab, Louisa.
(218) 346-5900 x228
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