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Finding a new ally for the walk to school

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/29/13 @ 8:00am  |  Posted in Transportation choices

You’ve heard of the 3 “Rs” but how about the 5 “Es”? To whit: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation & Planning. The 5Es was an invention of the League of American Bicyclists, itself a product of the 19th century push for “good” or paved roads.

Vacant to green<br />Teens in Slavic Village turned a vacant lot into a community garden with Safe Routes to School funding. Image: Slavic Village Development.Walking School Bus<br />Safe Routes to School paved the way for this Walk to School Day on Morgana Run Trail in Slavic Village.

Back in the dusty good old days, you walked or, if you had the means, biked, even if it was 10 miles in a snow storm. The design of post-War suburb, however, and the dwindling of neighborhood schools, has discouraged the current crop of kids from walking or biking to school (only 13% did in 2009).

As a response, and to combat the rising obesity crisis, around 2001, Safe Routes to School (SRTS), a national program to improve mobility of school children, arrived on the scene.

Funded initially by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Safe Routes found a receptive audience in Cleveland’s Slavic Village, one of the first neighborhoods to win a grant—$25,000 in 2009—that it used to form programs like the Walking School Bus, where parents walk groups of kids to school, and to convert vacant land along Broadway Avenue in to a community garden (pictured). Examples of other fundable programs include Bike Rodeos at schools or bike lanes.

SRTS Ohio Advocacy Organizer, Kate Moening, sees to it that cities with an interest in promoting more walking and biking look to school districts, who are eligible for plans and funding to improve the 5Es.

Cincinnati is at the head of the class, Moening said in a recent trip here. In 2012, Cincy was awarded SRTS funds, and produced a district-wide School Travel Plan. It is something rare in that most plans have been on a school-by-school basis.

“It takes a global view of the system,” she explains of Cincinnati’s plan, a 300-page document that includes demographic data and maps of who bikes and walks within a 2-mile radius of any school. “You can start to see who is affected” by the plan.

Moening expects Toledo and Akron to follow suit.

Locally, Chagrin Falls is the strongest example of a Safe Routes-funded district plan, she said. There local volunteer, Kathryn Garvey, applied and won funding in 2008 for a plan that has since won the prestigious Oberstar Award.

“It won because of its implementation, and for having strong buy in from the business community and school district,” Moening explains. “It’s self-sustaining. They don’t have to apply for funding anymore.”

In the current round, the City of Cleveland Heights applied for a full-district plan; both Cleveland and Cuyahoga’s health departments have applied for multiple schools. They will find out in June if their funding was approved.

At one time or another, the city of Cleveland had three schools with SRTS funding. Going forward, more schools and districts will be able to apply directly to NOACA for plans—and ultimately, implementation. MAP-21, the new federal transportation policy, splits Ohio’s $8 million 2013 SRTS money, with half being awarded by MPOs, the other half by ODOT.

Current funding represents a 50% decline from 2012 for Ohio. The drop is not for a lack of interest. The state awarded 122% of available funds last round, Moening says.

“ODOT received sixty eight applications for infrastructure alone, but could only fund twenty eight.

“Only five percent of those have been obligated. Until the remainder of the funds are obligated, they can be retracted,” she says.

Hoping to avoid that fate, SRTS hired Julie Walcoff to serve as one of seven state coordinators in Ohio. Walcoff was also recently named ODOT’s latest Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator, Moening says, and will split her time between both posts.

The next round of SRTS proposals will be accepted until the end of June. Moening hinted that there’s plenty of funding available.

What will help Cleveland and Cuyahoga County raise their game to the level of Cincy, Toledo and Akron’s Safe Routes to Schools?

“There’s this storm brewing in public health and healthcare,” Moening says. “In Northeast Ohio, there are pockets of interest. I think it will be in creating one movement that will bring it forward in a systematic way.”

The missing ingredient may be in getting the Cleveland Municipal School District on board. Then, a healthcare giant like the Cleveland Clinic or Kaiser might want to step in.

In the meanwhile, new rules expand the reach of SRTS programs in places that have partial plans. Cleveland could apply for citywide bike rodeos at any school, for example, even though only four schools have Travel Plans.

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5 years ago

I wouldn't let the pre-War suburbs off the hook so easily. They still have work to do in becoming more pedestrian friendly. For instance, in Cleveland Heights, try crossing Fairmount between Cedar and Coventry. Sure there's a sidewalk, but it only functions as one when cars aren't coming. Or, another example from Cleveland Heights is the Derbyshire/Kenilworth circle of pedestrian death with NO sidewalks. What are pedestrians supposed to do when they get to that intersection, levitate? Perhaps, just a few examples of the progressive/liberal blindspot when it comes to transportation planning.

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