Finding safe routes to and from school
Very few students at Piedmont Elementary School walk to or from school every day. According to a parent survey conducted last spring, of the 97 respondents, only 2 to 6 percent of students walk. A new program focused on offering education and enc...
Very few students at Piedmont Elementary School walk to or from school every day. According to a parent survey conducted last spring, of the 97 respondents, only 2 to 6 percent of students walk. A new program focused on offering education and encouragement while also focusing on improvements that make streets and sidewalks safer, hopes to change that.
The first Safe Routes to School planning session for Piedmont Elementary School was held last Monday in the school's media center. A handful of parents showed up to learn more about the program.
"Why do we want to get more kids walking to school? There are a number of reasons including less traffic congestion, which also reduces pollution," said Chris Beldon, of the Duluth Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council.
"And it helps students get the 60 recommended minutes of daily physical activity," said Josh Gorham, of the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services department.
In Duluth, Safe Routes to School planning is provided through a collaborative effort that includes the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council, the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, and St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services. Funding was secured through a Safe Routes to School Planning Grant made available by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Similar Safe Routes to School programs operate at Lincoln Park Middle School and Myers-Wilkins Elementary.
The meeting included a presentation highlighting how the Safe Routes to School program works and the key issues identified through the Safe Routes to School surveys distributed to parents at Piedmont Elementary last school year.
"One of the results we found interesting was that, of the students who lived less than a quarter of a mile away from the school, 70 percent would get a ride to school. However 50 percent would walk home after school," Belden said. "Which could be attributed to a few things, including work hours for the parents, weather patterns and possibly fear of letting kids walk in the darker morning hours."
Parents, in the survey were also asked what reasons affected their decision. The top reasons are distance, amount of traffic along path, weather or climate and speed of traffic along path.
These concerns were echoed by parents again when the meeting shifted into a discussion period. Parent Kerry Lapcinski pointed out a crosswalk at the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Ensign Street that he said he'd noticed is particularly treacherous.
"No one ever stops for people there. And if they do, you're afraid that the next car is going to go on the shoulder or plow through. I don't know if you can park a cop there or add some flashing signs, but it's pretty bad for kids to cross," Lapcinski said.
Areas of concern were marked on a map printout of the area surrounding the school. Principal Beth Shermoen pointed out the parking lot next to the school.
"My biggest concern is the crazy traffic in coming in the parking lot. We have 522 students right now and we don't have many parking spots, so there's a lot of congestion outside the doors," Shermoen said.
"And that creates a kind of domino effect because a parent will think an area is unsafe because there are so many cars, while adding another car into the mix," Belden said.
In the next few months, parent volunteers will be asked to attend morning and release observation days to scope out problem areas along school routes. Parents looking to volunteer can contact Belden at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jarrett Valdez or email@example.com to sign up.
The meeting for the Piedmont Safe Routes team will be in December, where data will be reviewed and program goals will be determined. To get more information or get involved, visit the Twin Ports Safe Routes to School Facebook page .