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OPINION: Paving the Way for a More Walkable Perry Hall

Baltimore County should actively explore ways to take advantage of federal funding to improve walkability to our local schools.

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. 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:

  1. to encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk or bicycle to school,
  2. to make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation choice and
  3. 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 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.

Jeffrey Smith October 11, 2011 at 02:56 PM
As I pointed out in the column, the federal Safe Routes to Schools program already offers a funding stream to provide for localized improvements near specific schools. Should Baltimore County elect to use these dollars, then we could make modest, phased-in improvements without any new county revenue streams (read taxes) being required.
Roni October 11, 2011 at 04:09 PM
I'd love to see Klausmeier road and Chapel Hill Road side-walked. Joppa Road is sporadic towards honeygo and how about a cross walk to get to the library? Honeygo is side-walked nicely on that end except you can't cross the street safely as there are no traffic lights. I'd like know what to do to help make Perry hall more pedestrian friendly. There are so many benefits. We live in a great community where walking to parks, businesses and services can be a reality.
Kim Ruark October 11, 2011 at 06:56 PM
There is a traffic light for the private school and church on Belair Road, but not even a crosswalk for the public school on Honeygo. Surely a traffic survey in front of JVE would show the volume, and reckless speed, of the traffic by the school. Even if the traffic light flashed all day and only went to red, yellow, green during the morning arrival and afternoon dismissal, it would be immensely safer. The way locals drive on Honeygo, I'd be afraid for the crossing guards! Fortunately, Mr. Palmer is very visible, but not invincible!
Nicole K. November 07, 2011 at 02:45 AM
As a long time resident, I hope for the following. First, Ebenezer Road is a residential road with two schools. People are driving way too fast and often over 60 miles per hour. It needs a four way stop at Kilbride and other traffic calming measures. Second, the intersection at Honeygo and Ebenezer has a crosswalk, but the light and button only really work for the crosswalk across Honeygo and not Ebenezer. This needs to be addressed. Third, people need to stop texting and using their cell phones. A PHHS mother with several kids in her car was texting while making a left on Campbell Blvd. one morning. When I beeped, she rolled her window down and let me know she wasn't endangering me. Seriously. Why did I beep? PH could be a lot more walkable, especially to connect Honeygo much better, and residents could drive more respectfully by slowing down and obeying vehicle laws. Thanks.
Stacey Schantz November 16, 2011 at 08:56 PM
Yay! Looks like they are putting in a curb and sidewalk on that stretch of Honeygo accross from Joppa View!!! YAY!!!! Can hardly wait till it's finished so I can run on it!!!

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