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Safe Route to Schools application discussed

Monday, February 18, 2008 | 10:59 p.m. CST; updated 12:36 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — City Council members reviewed a list of schools recommended by staff members for Columbia’s Safe Routes to School application Monday and listened to petitions from two residents seeking to add Grant Elementary School to the list.

Safe Routes to School is part of a federal Department of Transportation program that grants money to schools and nonprofit associations to make walking and biking to school safer for elementary and middle-school students.

Part of the $5.9 million that Missouri received will go toward building infrastructure, such as sidewalks and traffic diversions, as long as all items are built within two miles of the school.

The rest of the money will go toward noninfrastructure items, such as public awareness campaigns and safety training.

Several Columbia schools have been discussed as possibilities for the grant based on public hearings on the same topic last year.

Traffic engineer Richard Stone recommended in a city news release last week that Lange, Smithton and Gentry middle schools and Paxton Keely Elementary be the next schools to receive funding.

Mike Martin, who has two children who attend Grant Elementary, attended the meeting to encourage council members to add Grant to the application.

Martin said he was involved in a minor car accident in front of the school and noticed cars were having trouble navigating the streets around Grant.

The event spurred him to e-mail the Columbia Public Library Board, the principal of Grant elementary and Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade, suggesting parents be allowed to park in the library parking lot while dropping their kids off to help relieve some of the traffic.

“It’s a nightmare,” Martin said in his remarks to the council. “There has to be some sort of creative solution to this problem that wouldn’t involve Grant Elementary having to use other parking lots.”

One solution Martin suggested was to make part of Garth Avenue a temporary one-way street at certain times of day, a solution he said has worked well in other cities.

“This is a little part of town that’s outgrown it’s infrastructure,” Martin said. “A child is going to be hurt, and we’re going to be wishing we had done something about it.”

Martin said Wade told him about the Safe Routes to Schools program.

“I think they’re all valid,” Martin said of other school’s petitions to be included in the application. “This is a worthy idea that ranks right up there with any other major infrastructure.”

Another supporter of the program is Pednet Executive Director Ian Thomas.

PedNet is a nonprofit organization that encourages people to walk and bike instead of drive.

“Grant has an incredibly high level of (children) walking with no infrastructure and no space,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the Safe Routes to School program would assist with PedNet programs, such as the walking school bus.

“We want an increased infrastructure so parents feel like we don’t need the walking school bus program for their children to be safe going to school,” Thomas said. “The way for Columbia to be successful in receiving grant money is to have innovative ideas that can serve as a model for other communities.”

The City Council motioned to include Grant Elementary and Shepard Boulevard Elementary on the list of schools to be considered in the Safe Routes to School application.

The city’s applications are due to the Missouri Department of Transportation by March 31.


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