Plan would make biking, walking safer [UPDATED]Published 10:57am Thursday, September 13, 2012 Updated 10:57am Thursday, September 13, 2012
The city of Fergus Falls took the first step Wednesday morning to making its infrastructure friendlier to biking and walking children when the public works and safety committee recommended that the city council add a Safe Routes to School plan to the city’s comprehensive plan.
The Safe Routes plan, the creation of which was fully funded by a state grant, was presented during the meeting by SRF Consulting’s Cindy Gray, a former Fergus Falls resident who was one of the plan’s developers.
Even though awareness and availability of non-motorized transport has increased over the last several years, she said, many students who can walk or bike to school do not do so, eliminating a potentially valuable form of exercise. The Safe Routes to School plan seeks to change that by identifying ways to make a potential bike or walk to school safer.
“They’re not overly complicated solutions, but they can go a long way toward improving safety and a long way toward improving parents’ attitudes about allowing their kids to walk or bike to school,” said Gray.
The plan study focused on kids in kindergarten through eighth grade at seven schools in the city: Adams, Cleveland, Kennedy, McKinley, Hillcrest, Morning Son and Our Lady of Victory. Research included a survey of students and parents, an in-person examination of school commute habits and an identification of obvious spots for improvement. The plan then recommends a number of things that schools and the city can do to make the locations more pedestrian friendly.
“What Safe Routes to School is really geared at is having someone take the time to look at the details of those things at each school,” Gray said.
One big issue is sidewalks. Several parents surveyed during the study cited lack of a continuous sidewalk as a key reason to not let their kids walk to school. The data backs that up, as many roads are missing sidewalks on at least one side of the road. Some schools, Gray pointed out, lack sidewalks on some sides of the schools’ own properties, including the east and south sides of the Adams school site, the west side of the Cleveland site, and the south and part of the east side of the Morning Son site (also the Church of the Nazarene).
Concerns about speeding vehicles, lack of visibility and children walking alone were also cited in the survey or the study.
“The study also looks at incorporating the five e’s,” said Gray, explaining that engineering changes, education about walking and biking, encouragement for kids to walk and bike, enforcement of traffic safety laws and evaluation of the people who are walking and biking are all considered.
More general recommendations include solutions like a “walking school bus,” where an adult helps a group of children travel to school as a unit, as well as some programs already in place in the city, like a bike rodeo. Specific recommendations included adding a four-way stop at the intersection of Beech and Northern avenues near Cleveland school, creating a school speed zone on Randolph Avenue near Kennedy and installing pedestrian ramps compliant with Americans with Disability Act standards near Our Lady of Victory School.
Though she recommended seeking further grant aid for some of the projects (particularly sidewalk construction, as to do otherwise might result in special assessments), Gray said the city and the schools can take a number of more cost-efficient steps sooner. Extending school speed limit zones or restricting street parking near crosswalks and intersections, for example, would both be relatively cheap but effective helps.
She also recommended talking with residents about their concerns, particularly the locals who assisted SRF with the plan.
“It would probably be good to follow up with the (task force) and say, ‘Which ones of these improvements do you feel the most strongly about?’” she said.
The Safe Routes to School plan can be seen on the city’s website.