MUNROE FALLS -- The city has a plan to increase the safety of children walking or riding their bikes to school and is now seeking nearly $400,000 to implement it.
City Council gave first reading March 7 to a resolution granting approval for the city to seek a Safe Routes to School grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation. Community and Economic Development Development Coordinator Anne DiCola told Council the Stow-Munroe Falls School Board is expected to consider similar legislation during its March 20 meeting.
DiCola said a committee comprising city, school district and Summit County Health Department representatives developed a "school travel plan" and submitted it to ODOT.
"That was approved and the next process is to apply for funding," said DiCola.
Safe Routes to School is a federal program managed in Ohio by ODOT.
According to ODOT's website, "The purpose of Safe Routes to School is to encourage and enable students in grades K-8 to walk or ride their bicycle to school. Projects can be either engineering (improved crossings, sidewalks, etc.) or non-engineering (education and encouragement programs). Since the program began in 2008, walking and bicycling to school has increased in Ohio communities with active Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs."
In 2013, more than $700,000 in funding from the program allowed Stow to construct numerous sidewalks and trails around some schools in the city, installing speed monitors at the side of roads at some schools and make crosswalk improvements.
DiCola said Munroe Falls had GPD Group, the Akron firm that the city hired to be its engineer in fall 2016, to develop the engineering on the planned projects, as well as the cost estimate.
"The projects we have planned come in just under $400,000," said DiCola.
"It was very helpful that we had GPD," said Mayor James Armstrong, "that we could just call them and have them do the engineering."
DiCola said that while Safe Routes to School grants can be matching, the city is seeking "100 percent funding." DiCola said she believes that the award announcements will be made in May for projects to be constructed in 2020.
"They rank all projects statewide and I think there's quite a few. It's very competitive," she said.
According to a project summary, the plan is to make improvements at the city's two schools, Riverview Elementary School and Kimpton Middle School, which are down the street from each other on the north side of North River Road. DiCola said there was some scaling back because of costs, particularly the idea of putting in a sidewalk from Kimpton down North River for middle school students walking from the Marsh Road area in Stow.
Work at Riverview would include:
Replacing crosswalks at Jean Avenue and Spray Drive with a single crosswalk between them, to be accompanied by a new sidewalk on the south side of North River, a retaining wall and flashing beacons. This would resolve low visibility issues at the two existing crosswalks and "funnel" students directly to the school on the other side of the street.
Construct a sidewalk from the road at the point of the new crosswalk across a grassy area between Riverview's front parking aisles in order to allow students to walk from the crosswalk to the school entrance without having to go through the parking lot.
"We did an audit in 2014 and noticed that the children are in the parking lot," said DiCola. "You have cars coming in, buses going around. It was a nightmare."
Replacing current school zone signs with ones that have a back light so that motorists turning onto North River from side streets know they are within a school zone.
Replace existing ramps at the Crestview Drive crosswalks with Americans with Disabilities Act compliant ramps, as well sign upgrades, to improve safety and driver awareness.
Ar Kimpton, improvements would include:
Adding flashing beacons and ADA ramps at River Park Boulevard crosswalks.
Replace current school zone signs with sugns that have a back light.
DiCola told the Stow Sentry March 9 that the development of the plan included data gathered through "student travel tallies" and "parent surveys."
"(The travel tallies were to) get an idea of how many students basically were walking, taking the bus or traveling by car to school and then the parent surveys looked into why maybe the students weren't walking or the reasons for driving (to school) every day," said DiCola.
A draft travel plan in March 2015 identified a number of issues, including:
Surveys indicating that parents have concerns that many Riverview students are too young to walk or bike to school on their own and could become crime victims.
A lack of sidewalks on the south side of North River Road around the schools, as well as a lack of sidewalks along both sides of the road to the east of Kimpton.
Heavy traffic on North River, as well as the speed of traffic in the 35 mph zone.
A lack of efficient and/or designated school crosswalks.
Pedestrian hazards created by a narrow Riverview parking lot used by buses and other vehicles, including a narrow turn that is difficult for school buses to negotiate, even with someone directing traffic.
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