By Kevin Kelley
In May, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) awarded $7.2 million for 58 different projects designed to make walking to school safer for students in kindergarten through grade eight. Fairview Park is hoping to obtain grant money that will be awarded next year under the state’s Safe Routes to School program.
The federally funded program helps communities improve safety for school children by building or improving sidewalks and crosswalks. Children are also encouraged to walk to school more and taught how to be safe when walking or bicycling to school.
Since August, Fairview Park development administrator Matthew Hrubey has been meeting with officials of the Fairview Park City Schools and parents to develop a local Safe Routes to School program. A draft report was completed last month, and Hrubey shared the results at a public meeting at City Hall Dec. 16. City leaders will be accepting public comments on the report in the coming weeks. Details of the program, including the draft report and proposed projects, can be found online at www.saferoutesfairviewpark.weebly.com.
The goal is to prepare a grant application for submission to Columbus later this year, Hrubey said. The city is concentrating on three of the community’s public schools this year – the Early Education Center, Gilles-Sweet Elementary School and Lewis F. Mayer Middle School – he said, and may expand the program to cover private schools in coming years.
Students at each school were surveyed in September to see how they were getting to school. At Gilles-Sweet, for example, in the morning, 11 percent were walking, 4 percent were riding their bikes, 47 percent were riding a school bus, 32 percent were being driven in a family car and 6 percent were carpooling.
Parents were also surveyed as to why their children do not walk to school. The top three responses from Gilles-Sweet parents were the distance, amount of traffic on along the way and inclement weather.
Parents were also invited to leave anonymous comments as part of the survey. Here’s what one parent of a Gilles-Sweet student wrote: “I would love to let my daughter ride or walk to school. She asked all the time but I am fearful of the speed of traffic on (West) 220 along with her being alone and getting abducted. We live almost a full mile so I don’t see many kids walking all the way this far down (West) 220 so again I fear she would be alone.”
Communities seeking Safe Routes to School grant money must identify barriers that prevent more students from walking to school, and propose countermeasures to those barriers, Hrubey explained. Countermeasures consist of both infrastructure projects, such as installing a sidewalk, and noninfrastructure projects, such as lessons on how to safely cross the street.
For example, in the area around Gilles-Sweet Elementary School, possible infrastructure projects identified in the draft report include replacing deteriorating sidewalks in the neighborhood and applying a no-turn-on-red rule at the intersection of Lorain Road and West 220th Street during select school travel hours.
At Lewis F. Mayer Middle School, possible projects include making Campus Drive a one-way street during school travel hours and adding pedestrian lighting to a trail located between the Gemini Center and athletic field.
Noninfrastructure programs include increasing police enforcement of speeding and other traffic violations near schools and hiring additional crossing guards. In addition, a formal drop-off/pickup plan could be developed for each school, and maps of them distributed to parents.
To comment on the Fairview Park Safe Routes to School program, send an e-mail to Hrubey at firstname.lastname@example.org.