Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Palmer studies school-route safety

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Palmer city officials hope to tap federal funding to analyze and improve local school routes.

Palmer prides itself on being a walking-friendly town. All year, people walk to the grocery store, to the post office, to a coffee shop, to the library. Children flood the streets when school lets out, wending their way to their after-school commitments.

But is it safe to have kids skipping across the Glenn Highway on their way home? Are the streets well-lit enough for safe after-school walking? Are there things the city could do to make the routes safer?

The city of Palmer hopes to find out. Palmer Public Works Director Tom Cohenour applied for a $35,000 grant to analyze Palmer’s school routes and see if they need to be made safer.

Palmer’s grant has been approved by the state, although state officials are waiting to hear if the federal funding that pays for the program will survive the congressional budgeting process. Earlier this year funding for transportation safety projects was cut. Safe Routes advocates have been pleading their case for restored funding and a few bills that would reinstate funding for this and other programs have been introduced. But it’s not yet clear how the budget axe will swing.

Cohenour, who until last year was Public Works Director for the city of Cordova, said he tapped into the same grant program in that city and was able to pay for several improvements, including a local pedestrian and bicycling safety program. After arriving in Palmer, Cohenour said he was interested in tapping into the grant funding again. It’s a useful source of funds, he said, and improving school routes benefits everyone in the community, not only school children.

The Safe Routes to Schools program is a national effort to allow more children to walk safely to school. Grants, generally $5,000 per school within a certain radius of the applying municipality, can be used for planning, design and construction improvements. It can mean adding sidewalks, introducing traffic calming and speed-reducing measures on streets near schools, improving pedestrian and bicycle crossing areas and other infrastructure projects. Or a municipality could use the funding to encourage walking and bicycling to school, conduct traffic education or public awareness campaigns or paying for traffic enforcement operations near schools.

It’s not clear yet how the money would be spent. The city would first analyze school routes and then determine what improvements are needed. If the federal funding comes through, Cohenour said he hopes to get going on the analysis this year.

Interested in following Congress’ action on Safe Routes funding or contacting Senators or Representatives about it? Find updates and more here:

-- Rindi White

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