Athens School Board Hears Plans For Safe Routes To School

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The Safe Routes to School program, designed to encourage more students to walk or bike to The Plains Elementary School, was presented during a recent Athens City Schools Board meeting by the Athens County Planner.

“It’s a 5-step program and it addresses engineering, education, enforcement, and encouragement activities to help kids not only have the ability to walk to school and bike to school as an option for their travel but also to do that safely,” Athens County Planner Lori Burchett said of The Safe Routes to School Program.

The program began in the 1970s to prevent the number of childhood deaths while walking and bicycling to school. It spread internationally and came to the United States when there were two pilot programs funded in 1997 by the United States Department of Transportation. Funds are distributed to the state based on student enrollment and can be used for either infrastructure projects or other activities not involving infrastructure.

Targeted enforcement is part of the plan. More infrastructure development is included as well and is 100 percent grant funded. There is a limit of four schools per plan and all the schools in the Athens district are on one plan because of their locations within city limits. Because of the limit and as well as some of the unique challenges The Plains Elementary School faces, the plan will be targeted specifically at the one school and the surrounding area.

Burchett went on to say, “We have the support of our Athens County commissioners to be able to work toward these infrastructure improvements and we also have the support of our sheriff’s office for the enforcement aspect of it and we have a lot of encouraging people in our community that are willing to help out with that aspect.”

The Athens Twp. Trustees are involved as well. Ted Linscott and Steve Pierson were present at the open house and are active in developing the plan.

The plan will offer the students the choice to walk to school and encourage them to do so. Burchett continued in saying that the program will also develop programming too. She then brought up that some members of The Plains community involved with Neighborhood Watch and a few local daycares were interested in walking together and organizing somewhat of a “walking school bus” and picking up students along the way.

“The main concern with parents is the safety of the students of course, so we tried to address that with all of these different tiers within the plan. We just really wanted to identify what areas would have the priority for getting kids safely to and from school,” she said.

Steps at the park, new sidewalks and a raised intersection along with other markings are just a few changes this program has already put into effect. The Safe Routes to School program is one that does not require a local match for its funds.

This article contributed by the Athens Messenger