Safe Routes to School program
A group that wants to ensure that Lincoln County school children get to and from school safely put their heads together recently to come up with a plan to do just that – and it’s not about putting more cars on the road. In fact, quite the opposite.
The Safe Routes to Schools organization, which partners with the Oregon Department of Transportation, is making the rounds of Oregon communities to develop local walking and biking routes that are safe and convenient for students. School safety personnel, along with law enforcement, streets, trails and other public officials laid out their challenges for all Lincoln County students to be able to get to and from school on their own, without a flotilla of “mom vans” clogging streets and school pick-up and drop-off areas. They also acknowledged that walking and biking to school is healthier for kids. Not only does it help to prevent childhood obesity, children arrive at school after having done some exercise that results in a calmer frame of mind that helps children focus on learning.
Ideas to improve walking and biking conditions around Lincoln County included:
* Toledo High – Entry drive/walkway hill is not safe. No sidewalk, steep edges/drop offs, narrow road. No sidewalk on Sturdavent leading to school.
* Toledo Elementary – Limited sidewalk access on Sturdavent – only to the south.
* Newport High and Newport Intermediate – No sidewalk on 4th in front of Lincoln County Fairgrounds.
* Waldport High – Elementary – No sidewalk along Crestline to school. New high school will increase traffic from parents driving students, as well as student drivers. Lower speed limit near the schools. Raised crosswalks over highways, install crosswalk warning lights, create bike trails.
* Install flashing school zone lights on Crestline.
* Taft High and Taft Elementary – Wider shoulders along Highways 101 and 18 from Otis area. More sidewalks.
* Safety education for walkers, rights of way issues, crosswalk laws.
* Staff/volunteers needed for crossing guard training, vests, handheld flags and signs.
* Oceanlake Elementary – Need two handheld stop/slow signs.
* Bikers/walkers need to be educated about safety and traffic rules – vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists.
* Everyone needs to learn about “Safe Routes to School.”
* Promote healthy benefits of walking/biking to school.
* Map neighborhoods to reveal challenges and opportunities.
* Plan “Bike to School” events.
* Coordinate special promotions for bike, clothing and helmet give-aways.
* Recruit volunteers to assist walkers/bikers.
* Create “group sites” to coordinate walking.
Comments from the group included some frustration that sidewalks, rights of way, highway crossings and the like require full-blown plans before being qualified for grants, much less permits for construction. Plans cost money to produce, they said, and it makes it harder when the Safe Routes to School program requires plans for projects five to ten years down the road. “That’s well beyond our time line for local projects here in Newport,” said Public Works Director Tim Gross.
A Safe Route to Schools official said they understand the predicament but quickly added that there are many other tactics that schools and their communities can use to make routes to school more safe for students – like asking law enforcement to concentrate on school zones during times children are going to and from school. A deputy sheriff quickly replied “We’re very thin on patrols as it is. Budgets are tight. Officers don’t come out of thin air.” Response: “Then think about using reserve officers as deterrents – have them write down license plate numbers and send a letter to the registered owner that their vehicle was speeding in a school zone on such and such a date. They’ll get the message.” The suggestion was made that mobile radar trailers be used more consistently in school zones around the county. Public Works Director Tim Gross chimed in that getting creative with street striping can also slow down traffic if it narrows ‘perceived’ lane widths. It’s cheap to do.
Another suggestion was to contact parents or other adults who might like to monitor student commutes to school, provide guidance and to raise the level of safety while enroute.
Safe Routes to School officials said the next step will be for schools to do more outreach to students and parents to determine what impediments exist that discourages walking and biking to school. After that, create an action plan and take meaningful steps to enact changes that makes biking and walking to school more safe and enjoyable.
More meetings to come to keep the momentum going.