Joppa View Elementary School students and parents participated in the 10th annual International Walk to School Day last Wednesday. About 100 students and family members opted to walk to the school, rather than rely on buses or cars for transportation. Joppa View has participated in this program for four years, in spite of the fact that it's not particularly easy for students to walk to the school.
There are a number of resources available to help communities improve bicycle or pedestrian safety along schools routes. Schools like Joppa View Elementary could become more walkable, provided that infrastructure improvements—such as sidewalk upgrades, better crossings at heavily traveled roads and the addition of appropriate traffic signals—were put into place.
Where does Perry Hall need more sidewalks? Tell us in the comments.
Given today's challenging economic times, I am sure you're thinking that improvements like these are simply out of reach. In reality, that's not true. Perry Hall Patch readers recently read about the Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) program. Implemented in 2005 as part of the comprehensive federal transportation funding reauthorization bill, SRTS provides grants to facilitate bicycle/pedestrian access to schools.
According to the Federal Highway Administration (the national administrator of the program), the initiative is designed:
- to encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk or bicycle to school,
- to make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation choice and
- to promote the planning, development and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and also reduce traffic, fuel consumption and air pollution in areas located near primary and middle schools.
Since the inception of the program, Maryland has received nearly $17 million in funding through SRTS. Unfortunately, however, Baltimore County is the only major suburban county in Maryland that has chosen not to take advantage of this valuable program. In contrast, in 2011 alone, Baltimore City successfully garnered over $473,000 to add crosswalks, ADA ramps, signage, pedestrian countdown signals and beacons in areas near city schools.
A report recently issued by the Maryland Department of Transportation indicated that a significant impediment to the promotion of greater bicycle and pedestrian access to schools is a lack of awareness of the SRTS program. Indeed, when the report was released in February 2011 (and still to this day), no consolidated statewide MDOT website exists that offers information on the program.
Searching the Web however, I did find a very informative "Safe Routes to School Guidebook," prepared in 2005 during the Ehrlich administration. This document offers parents a wealth of information about SRTS and how communities can come together to identify and find funding for projects to support better access to schools. This resource should be updated and widely distributed.
Baltimore County has made recent progress in our area by improving sidewalks near some schools. But rather than going it alone and funding these projects only with county dollars, officials should engage residents to create sensible projects with the help of the federal Safe Routes to Schools program.