The city and the school district received a grant during the winter to study the neighborhoods surrounding Mary A. White Elementary School and Lakeshore Middle School. A team of traffic engineers and planners from Michigan State and Wayne State universities will spend several weeks visiting Grand Haven to survey the routes, count traffic, and identify threats to a safe walking and biking environment.
All parents and children will be surveyed to discover why they do or do not walk or bike to school. Local officials will use the detailed study to decide what improvements could be made to encourage more walking and biking, and less driving.
“Surveys will go out (at the) next parent-teacher conferences at both schools, and some improvements may be implemented as soon as fall 2011,” McGinnis said.
Improvements could include better grades on sidewalks, more level and gradual approaches at intersections, removal of visual obstacles, better lighting, more clear signage and pavement marking, more effective sidewalk snow-removal techniques, annual education about the benefits of walking to school, fewer bus runs, cost savings on fuel and wages, and heightened awareness about school route safety issues.
“We’ve not had talks, plans or designs to improve pedestrian safety in school neighborhoods in years,” McGinnis said. “It is time to direct our attention to safer routes throughout the city and beyond.”
The Safe Routes to School program was established in 2005 as part of the federal highway budget. Funds are directed to state departments of transportation to create and administer Safe Route programs.
According to research conducted by the Federal Highway Administration, more than half of all children walked or biked to school in 1969. In 2010, more than half are driven to school in a parent’s car. Only 15 percent arrive at school on a bike or on foot, and about 25 percent of students take the bus.