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Federal grant improves the walk to school

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2007 12:00 a.m. CDT

By Diane Strand &#8220It takes a village” and the &#8220village board” wants your kids to make it to school safely. Safe Routes to School is a grant from the Federal Highway Administration and is administered by the Illinois Department of Transportation. Its stated goal is to &#8220foster healthy lifestyle choices for youth by making it safe for them to walk or bike to school.” The grant can fund infrastructure projects (bricks, mortar, streets and paint) up to $400,000 and non-infrastructure projects up to $50,000. The DeKalb-Sycamore Area Transportation Study (DSATS) is taking advantage of the program to assist the following DeKalb schools: Lincoln and Chesebro Elementary and Huntley Middle School. According to Kimberly Laschinger, community development intern for the City of DeKalb, &#8220These particular schools were chosen in conjunction with the South Fourth Street Redevelopment Plan.” Projects will include: 1)sidewalk repairs on Taylor Street, Sunset Place, and Second Street; 2) intersection crosswalk improvements at Fourth Street and Taylor Street; and 3) the addition of street lights at Sunset Place and Second Street.. The South Fourth Street project, which was initiated by the city with the Environmental Protection Agency, will include narrowing the street to two lanes, adding substantial greenery, making sidewalks safer and slowing traffic. To help with the projects, a committee was formed that includes school principals, a representative from the police department, the director of safety and security for the school district and city staff. Parents were updated through periodic reports to the PTAs and further comment was gleaned at an open house May 14 at Huntley. Parents were surveyed about why more kids don't walk or bike to school and teachers kept records of how the kids got to school for a week. Brainstorming sessions resulted in several major projects. For example, at Chesebro they included teaching pedestrian and bicycle safety skills for kids and parents, creating educational materials to promote walking and biking, and starting a Neighborhood Watch. Lincoln School will improve signage to alert motorists, design pick-up and and drop-off procedures, increase safety and initiate a walking/biking mileage club. Huntley will replace and add bike racks, construct or replace sidewalks, and educate parents and caregivers about safe-driving procedures at school. Interesting data was gathered. For example, 44.1 percent of the students lived only 0-1/2 mile from school, yet almost 67 percent arrived on the bus or in a family vehicle. Twenty-four percent of the children walked and just 3.7 percent rode bicycles. Parents cited dangerous intersections, a major roadway dividing the neighborhood and walkways inaccessible to children with disabilities as some of their concerns..

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