Aurora, schools will send in Safe Routes funding request

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

Aurora -- The city and school district are gearing up to submit their application for Safe Routes to School funding, and outlined the program to a handful of parents and school / city officials last week.

Meeting in the district's Tower Room at Craddock School on Feb. 5, about 20 people heard consultant John Brigham of Parsons Brinckerhoff outline the program and what the city and schools are doing to secure funds.

Stephanie Tresso of Parsons Brinckerhoff and Corrin Gulick of MURPHYepson, an advertising/public relations firm, also were present as part of the consulting team.

The Safe Routes to School program's goal is to improve the health and well-being of children in grades kindergarten to eight by enabling and encouraging them to walk and bicycle to and from school.

The deadline for submitting a travel plan to the Ohio Department of Transportation for this year's round of funding is March 1. Tresso said the city could receive up to $500,000.

"We believe we have a good chance to receive some money," said schools Business Affairs-Transportation Manager Greg Pollock.

"It's a great program for a community. We're excited about it. It's an excellent opportunity," city Planning-Zoning-Building Director Rich Wehrenberg told the Advocate last year when the city and schools first explored getting involved in the program.

"IT WILL allow students to get to school by walking or bicycling, and they'll be able to get more exercise," he added.

In July 2005, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to establish the national Safe Routes to School program, and it set aside $612 million from 2005 to 2009.

Last July, Congress passed a new transportation bill which continued the program. Ohio communities received $6.14 million in SRTS funding in 2012. Since the program was established, Ohio has received $40.42 million.

If funding to the city is approved, it could pay for sidewalk and walking/bicycling path improvements, crosswalks and traffic signals -- anything that makes transportation to and from schools easier and safer for students.

Pollock said a committee put together the local travel plan over the past several months. The committee included officials from the city and schools.

Participating from the schools were Pollock, nurse Sandy Petti, teachers Mike DeMay and Tim Weber and resident Mary Ellen Liang. From the city were Wehrenberg, planner Denise Januska, Service Director John Trew, Fire Chiefs David Barnes and John Schmader and police Lts. Don Johnson and Rob Hagquist.

Using the five Es -- engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement and evaluation -- the local task force identified how current conditions could be improved to make it safer and more attractive for children to walk and bicycle to and from school.

ENGINEERING refers to infrastructure projects that improve the pedestrian and bicycle environment within two miles of a school.

The other Es refer to non-infrastructure programs that are intended to affect student or driver behavior to result in more walking and biking to school.

Brigham said bicycling to the local schools is popular in Aurora, and could be made a lot easier and safer if the city obtains SRTS funding.

He noted new sidewalks near the schools, more bike racks at the schools and a path linking Harmon and Leighton schools with West Pioneer Trail are a high priority.

"Encouraging more walking and bicycling also would reduce the number of buses and cars on streets leading to the schools," he added.

For parents who are concerned about their children walking or bicycling to school, Brigham said some money could be used for a "Walking School Bus" program.

It would involve volunteers accompanying the youngsters to and from school to ensure their safety.

Wehrenberg said the city expects to know by May whether it gets funding this year. If the money is granted, he noted some educational programs and infrastructure projects could get under way by year's end.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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