As the school year winds down and children focus on summer vacation, school and transportation officials unveiled plans Friday to ensure the return to classes next fall will be safer throughout Idaho.
Idaho’s First Lady Lori Otter joined elected officials, representatives of ITD, the Federal Highway Administration, Ada County Highway District, the Boise School District and a statewide coalition at an afternoon ceremony Friday. With Trial Winds Elementary School as a backdrop, they announced $1.5 million in funding for 21 projects as part of the new Safe Routes to School Program.
The federally funded program encourages students in grades K-8 who live within two miles of school to choose transportation modes most often used by their parents and grandparents – walking and bicycling.
Otter, a former physical education and health teacher, emphasized the need for children to adopt a more active lifestyle, including bicycling and walking to school.
“When routes are safe, walking or biking to and from school is an easy way to get the regular physical activity kids need for good health,” the First Lady said. “Idaho’s children will benefit greatly from this program.
“We begin here, today, with Safe Routes to School, a program that promotes physical activity.”
Childhood asthma and diabetes rates have increased steadily in recent years, while the number of children walking and bicycling to school has declined. A National Household travel Survey conducted in 2001 indicates less than 16 percent of students between the ages of 5 and 15 walked or biked to school.
In addition to the physical and social benefits, commuting to school on foot of bicycle reduces fuel consumption, air pollution and congestion.
Among the participants in Friday’s Safe Routes to School kickoff were: Dr. Jerry Hirschfeld, a child safety advocate and administrator of St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital in Boise; Renee Sigel, assistant administrator for the Federal Highway Administration (Idaho division); Meridian Chief of Police William “Bill” Musser representing the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association; Elaine Clegg from Idaho Smart Growth and Safe Routes to School committee and Sen. Elliot Werk, District 17.
The Safe Routes School program reimburses schools, communities and other organizations for qualifying improvements that make walking and bicycling safer for children Projects are limited to elementary through middle or junior high (grades K-8) that are within two miles of the school.
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.
Congress designated $612 million under the current transportation bill (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) to states that implement a Safe Routes to School program.
Idaho receives about $1 million annually for the new program. Projects reimbursed under the program’s first year are:
Ada County Highway District, $78,419; City of American Falls, $68,645; City of Ammon, 87,620;City of Bellevue, $94,494; City of Dayton, $42,250; City of Driggs, $89,443; City of Coeur d’Alene, $101,600; City of Grace, $7,292; City of Hailey, $90,595; City of Ketchum, $104,360; City of Lewiston, $102,320; City of Moscow, $113,750; City of New Plymouth, $87,000; City of Rockland, $76,000; City of Salmon, $103,832; City of Sandpoint, 97,030; City of Troy, $80,755; Boise School District/YMCA, $25,000; Bonneville School District, $5,000; Wood River Rideshare, $21,900; and statewide services, $50,000.