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Safe Routes to School

By NICK NARIGON

safe

Marengo city and school officials are studying ways to make it safer for students to walk and bicycle to school at Iowa Valley Elementary. Suggestions include relieving traffic congestion and improving sidewalks.

Community leaders, school officials, law enforcement officers and transportation professionals joined together Thursday, April 8, to begin efforts to make Marengo a safer place for students to walk and bike to school.

Representatives from the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, a division of the Iowa Department of Transportation, held a day-long seminar at the Marengo Public Library regarding the Safe Routes to School Program.

Marengo City Administrator Brent Nelson, who organized the program, said the purpose of the seminar is to identify different solutions to improve safety for students, as well as promote physical fitness.

Nelson said the city has a problem with parents parking as much as three-cars wide along the street and inadequate sidewalks for students to travel.

Representatives from the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, city officials and a city engineer toured the most popular travel routes for students walking or biking to Iowa Valley Elementary School.

“This program is not about making it easier to drive kids to school. It is to encourage kids to walk or bicycle to school,” said Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.

Wyatt said he saw a lot of potential for low cost improvements that are easy to implement.

The specific areas that need improvement are the stretch of Lucas Street that runs from Western Avenue to the elementary school and the one-block stretch of Marengo Avenue between Main Street and the elementary school.

Wyatt noted the city shop is located along Marengo Avenue, as is a private business, that have large trucks backing in and out. There is also a lot of student traffic, he said.

The city should look at repainting crosswalks, creating diagonal parking spaces along Marengo Avenue and renovating the sidewalks along Marengo Avenue and Lucas Street, Wyatt said.

“Marking crosswalks is one of the biggest issues,” he said. “Probably one of the biggest things that needs to happen in Marengo is a little more paint.”

He said the recommended minimum width for sidewalks is five feet, while the preferred width is six feet.

One of the toughest issues the city will face is getting cooperation from property owners, who are responsible for the maintenance of sidewalks, Wyatt said.

Other improvement opportunities the city have are to install more signage around the school, such as school area speed limit signs, crosswalk signs and parking regulations, he said.

Molly Gable, the Safe Routes program director for the Iowa Bicycle Coalition, said a long-term project for the city and the school would be to separate the drop off and pick up areas at the elementary school.

In addition, Gable said the city and school can look at ways to encourage students to walk or bicycle to school.

She said one of the biggest problems is that as it gets more dangerous for kids to walk to school, the more parents are willing to drive their kids to school, which actually makes the situation more dangerous.

She said parents should be encouraged to carpool students to school, and a walking school bus can be formed. In addition, designated parking areas can be established two blocks from school. This would be an area where parents can park and then walk their kids to school.

Gable said students can be encouraged to start bicycle clubs that ride to and from school together.

The school can also look at different ways of enforcement, she said, including a student safety patrol, crossing guards and driveway monitors.

The next step for the city is to form a committee that is willing to study the issues and form an action plan, Gable said.

“You need a champion in the community and the school district to make the program sustainable,” she said.

The city is planning to submit a grant application to the Safe Routes to School funding program.

Grants of up to $100,000 are available for safety improvements. The work done during the April 8 workshop will go toward the application process. In addition, the city and school will have to undertake student, teacher and parent surveys, among other studies.

The grant application deadline is Oct. 1.

Five Iowa Valley sixth graders who were members of the First Lego League gave a presentation during the workshop, explaining the need for safer routes to schools. The team put together a map of Marengo showing where there were, and weren’t sidewalks.

Wyatt said the map can be used for the grant application.

“Those students did an excellent job,” he said. “They have done a lot of the groundwork for you already.”

Nelson said the city and school will form a Safe Routes committee of parents, teachers and community members.

“The first thing to do is get the information together and create a task force,” he said. “We will have to determine here’s where we are at and here’s where we want to go.”

UPDATED April 13, 2010 4:14 PM

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