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Making our sidewalks safer
By NICK NARIGON
The City of Marengo will host a “Safe Routes to School” workshop Thursday, April 8.
The free day-long workshop sponsored by the Iowa Department of Transportation is intended to provide information about how the city can increase the safety for students traveling to and from school.
The full-day session will be held at the Marengo Public Library from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with meals and refreshments provided.
The public is invited to attend.
Marengo City Administrator Brent Nelson said he has seen a definite safety concern when students are let out of school at the end of the day. There is a lack of sidewalks along the students’ route to school, and sometimes cars are parked three or four deep along the street as parents wait to pick up their children, he said.
“It’s just not a safe situation,” Nelson said.
Two safety experts will come to Marengo to give the workshop. They will study the situation in Marengo and provide possible solutions.
Nelson said the workshop is offered free to any city who applies, but the City of Marengo was selected as one of six cities in the state to receive a comprehensive study.
“Hopefully they can give us some ideas for solutions,” he said.
The workshop includes a presentation involving the five “Es”: engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement and evaluation.
There will also be a hands-on session resulting in generation of solutions to problems unique to the school and community.
More importantly, experts will conduct a walk-about assessing the pedestrian and bicycling facilities at the Iowa Valley Elementary School. There will also be an observation session during the school dismissal.
In the end, facilitators will help the city create an action plan for the local Safe Routes to School task force.
Nelson said the city looked at applying for Safe Routes to School last year, but the idea to participate in the Safe Routes to School program was brought to Marengo City Council again by a group of Iowa Valley Elementary students last winter.
Chloe Gerard, Abby Hall, Elisabeth Hocamp, Thad Megchelsen, Jacob Schmieder and Marissa Ward, under the tutelage of IV science teacher Tom Megchelsen, competed in the First Lego League competition in December. As part of the competition, the team developed a PowerPoint presentation about finding safe routes for Iowa Valley students to walk to school.
Their solutions included building more sidewalks, encouraging drivers to watch for students, get more crossing guards and make the drop off and pick up zone a one-way street.
The team gave their PowerPoint presentation to the Marengo City Council Dec. 14, 2009.
As part of the presentation, the students suggested the City of Marengo look into applying for grants through Safe Routes for Schools.
Marengo City Engineer Dave Schechinger said the concerns the students brought up are valid, and it would be worth the city’s time to apply for Safe Routes grants.
“I think these guys have done a very good job of explaining the problem,” Schechinger said.
The deadline to apply for Safe Routes to School grants is Oct. 1, and the application is a lengthy process, he said. Having the April 8 workshop will go a long way toward gathering the information needed for the grant, Schechinger said.
Safe Routes to School was formed by the DOT because during the past two to three decades, there has been an incredible rise in obesity and physical inactivity in children and adults. The impact on health and health-care costs is high and will continue to rise dramatically. In 1969, roughly half of all children walked or biked to school. Now, it is about 15 percent. For school trips less than one mile, 29 percent walk or bike.
There is a strong correlation between communities with good bicycle and pedestrian environments, and having more active residents. Air quality and traffic congestion around schools has also become an issue.

 

UPDATED March 31, 2010 1:59 PM

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