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APS developing school travel plan

11/14/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Maria Lindsay

Andy Davis, from the city of Akron’s Traffic Engineering Division, talks to children at Helen E. Arnold Community Learning Center recently about the Safe Routes to School program.
Photo: Maria Lindsay
AKRON — Walking to school is going to get a little safer for Akron Public Schools (APS) students in kindergarten through eighth grade, thanks to the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program.

The program works to raise awareness, promote pedestrian safety, create safer routes for walking and bicycling and emphasizes the importance of increasing physical activity for children to combat a growing obesity epidemic, according to program officials.

The program began after the U.S. Congress funded two pilot programs through the U.S. Department of Transportation using a $50,000 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant in California and Massachusetts, according to its website, www.saferoutesinfo.org. More than $600 million was dedicated from 2005 to 2009 for both infrastructure projects and noninfrastructure activities related to developing safer routes to school for children, and the federal SRTS program apportioned nearly $1.15 billion to states as of Sept. 30, 2012, to benefit more than 14,000 schools, according to the website.

Andy Davis, from the city of Akron’s Traffic Engineering Division, explained the first program in Ohio was adopted in a smaller school district in Cincinnati through the Ohio Department of Transportation and the initiative has now moved to Akron, as well as Columbus and Toledo. The local effort is garnering some attention because APS is looking at it from a district-wide standpoint, he added.

During a presentation on the effort at the Helen E. Arnold Community Learning Center Nov. 8, ODOT District 4’s Chad Root explained $125,000 has been allotted to the Akron program.

Davis added the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS) is kicking in another $100,000, and the city is adding a $25,000 required match.

APS, the Ohio Department of Transportation, AMATS and city officials will work with University of Akron Department of Sports Science and Wellness Education graduate assistant Sam Trecaso and department chair Victor Pinheiro to develop a plan that will make it safer for children in kindergarten through eighth grade to walk and bicycle to school, according to Davis.

The district-wide School Travel Plan will outline ways to make travel to and from school safer and more sustainable for children, according to APS officials. Davis explained the group plans to use parent surveys, student travel tallies, principal surveys and walking audits to identify priorities for the plan.

“We hope to learn from parents and students what their concerns on the matter are, what obstacles children and parents face, and what infrastructure improvements are needed to improve safety,” he said. “We want to encourage walking instead of having parents drive children to school. This is also related to a health initiative designed to reduce childhood obesity.”

According to AMATS Transportation Planner Phyllis Jividen, the School Travel Plan will focus on various elements of safety for children, including education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering and evaluation.

“We want to help APS become more pedestrian friendly, but also make it more exciting to walk to school,” she added.

The effort to develop the School Travel Plan will include looking for funding to help pay for the initiatives, according to APS Executive Director of Business Affairs Debra Foulk. She said the plan should be ready for the next school year, but many elements, such as the education portion, will be adopted before that. Officials also hope to integrate the education portion into the curriculum.

Akron Police Officer Jeff Shaffer also participated in the presentation and spoke to children about safety while walking to school. Shaffer discussed wearing helmets while bicycling, using a seat belt in a vehicle, being cautious around traffic and safety regarding talking to strangers.

“We care about you, and we are all working together to improve your safety,” said Billy Soule, assistant to Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic for Community Relations.

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