Lena Whitmore Elementary School in Moscow is surrounded by a subdivision built in the 1960s when construction of sidewalks was an afterthought. Many children face difficult challenges just to travel safely from home to school and back everyday.
Children walking from Hailey Elementary School face similar trials when traveling on a four-block, multi-use path along Elm Street.
Moscow is responding by adding sidewalks to connect the school to existing paths and providing a contiguous eight-block route for children to walk or bicycle to school. Projects also include development of maps, participation in International Walk to School Day, a children's safety fair and bike rodeos, walking/biking “trains” and walking/bicycle safety presentations by the University of Idaho and Moscow police.
Travel is being made safer for children in Hailey by construction of four blocks of sidewalks that connect with improvements the school district is making this year. The school is producing educational materials for parents, conducting workshops and public meetings, developing route maps, collaborating with police for bike and pedestrian safety workshops and posting information on the Wood River Rideshare Web site.
Projects in both communities will receive reimbursements from a federal transportation program administered by the Idaho Transportation Department. Safe Routes to Schools was created as part of the federal transportation bill - Safe, Affordable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act – a Legacy for Users.
Josephine O’Connor assumed leadership of the program created last year under the auspices of the Office of Highway Operations and Safety. She organized the Safe Routes to Schools office, established a statewide advisory committee and helped create application criteria for project reimbursement.
Bowen Huntsman, who co-chairs the advisory committee with Molly O'Reilly of Sandpoint, presented an overview of the program to the transportation board last week. He also requested reimbursements of more than $1.5 million for infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects in every district of the state.
Forty-six elementary and middle schools participated in the first year of the program that emphasizes safe travel – primarily by bicycle and walking. The benefits are far-reaching Huntsman told the board. Forsaking rides in passenger vehicles or buses encourages physical activity and healthy interaction among students and adult companions, eases congestion near schools, reduces air pollution and conserves natural resources.
State or local governments, schools, school districts, and non-profit organizations are eligible to apply for Safe Routes to School reimbursements. Projects are limited to elementary through middle or junior high (grades K-8) that are within two miles of the school. Funded projects provide full reimbursements for completed projects that comply with Federal Highway Administration requirements.
In Idaho, funding is limited to $100,000 for infrastructure projects and $25,000 for non-infrastructure projects. Improvements that qualify as infrastructure include sidewalks, striping, signs, flashing school zone lights and solar speed limit signs. Non-infrastructure projects include walking school buses, bicycle rodeos, incentives, creation of Safe Routes to Schools committees and crossing guard supplies.
The transportation board approved the following projects for 2006-07 reimbursements: