The city of North Little Rock is in the process of applying for a state grant for infrastructure improvements in the areas of Boone and Glenview Elementary schools in an effort to provide safer routes for children.
On Feb. 25, the North Little Rock City Council approved a request by Mayor Joe Smith to apply for grant funds from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s "safe routes to school program."
"The city of North Little Rock recognizes the need for safe routes to and from school for children and families on bicycles and on foot," reads the adopted resolution. "The city will provide the necessary resources to maintain the infrastructure improvements made through these grant funds."
If the grant application were approved, the city would construct a sidewalk leading to Boone Park Elementary School along Nona Street up to West 18th Street. Currently, there are sidewalks in the area around Vestal Park and portions of Crutchers Street near the elementary school. But the vast majority of the neighborhood has no existing sidewalks, according to the application.
In the area of Glenview Elementary, a new sidewalk would be constructed along Edmonds Street leading to Ira Street. There are currently sidewalks in the area in places such as in front of the Glenview Recreation Center, New Hope Baptist Church, East 19th Street, and Ben Street.
Safe Routes To School (SRTS) is a Federal-aid Highway Program administered in Arkansas by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD). It was created by the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) and signed into public law in 2005. The purpose of the program is:
• To enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school;
• To make bicycling and walking to school a safer and more appealing transportation alternative, thereby encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle from an early age; and
• To facilitate the planning, development, and implementation of projects and activities that will improve safety and reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution in the vicinity of schools.
Four types of projects have been established: Planning Grant, Walking School Bus Grant, Education Grant, and Infrastructure Grants. An SRTS Advisory Committee evaluates all of the applications and determines which applicants will receive funding.
Kimberly Sanders, AHTD’ s Safe Routes To School Coordinator, said safety is one of the most common reasons for parents to be reluctant to allow their children to walk to school.
North Little Rock isn’t the only local community that has sought funds from the program.
In 2007, the Forest Park Elementary PTA in Little Rock was awarded a $317,452 infrastructure grant from AHTD for its "Stride with Pride on Neighborhood Streets" project. The project also was awarded a non-infrastructure grant of $10,592 for education programs.
"We recognized that any effort to improve the situation would be a major one," said Cindy Pugh, who served as PTA president for 2009-2010. The school partnered with the City of Little Rock as well as the Little Rock School District, 3M Corporation, the AHTD and the neighborhood community surrounding the school. "This approach demonstrated our broad scale support and ensured that all issues related to infrastructure work were resolved on the front end."
The grant was awarded in the fall of 2007, Pugh noted, and construction was completed during summer 2008 when school was out of session. Hill spent many hours on-site working with contractors and neighbors to ensure the project was completed with as little conflict as possible. The improvements included the installation of 46 driver safety signs and two solar driver feedback signs, 330 tons of asphalt and 2,851 square feet of driveway. In addition, contractors poured 6,711 square feet of concrete for sidewalks, installed 1,519 linear feet of curb and gutter, and painted cross walks and other driver directional signage in fluorescent paint. The work was finished before school started.
"We had kids walking to school that first day," Hill says. "It was incredible." The PTA celebrated the completion of the sidewalks on International Walk to School Day in October 2008, and it launched its Stride Pride education component. The multi-faceted education project includes a public awareness campaign, establishing a walking school bus, incorporating age-appropriate pedestrian safety messages into the curriculum and holding Stride Pride Fridays to encourage students to walk to school regularly.
Established in May 2006, the National Center for Safe Routes to School assists states and communities in enabling and encouraging children to safely walk and bicycle to school. The National Center serves as the information clearinghouse for the federal Safe Routes to School program. The organization also provides technical support and resources and coordinates online registration efforts for Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day in the U.S. and facilitates worldwide promotion and participation in International Walk to School Day. The National Center is part of the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center with funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. For more information, visit www.saferoutesinfo.org.