A safer way for children to walk and cycle to school may soon be a possibility for schools in the town of Marion.
At a school board meeting on Monday, a representative from Toole Design made a presentation on a school transportation plan being developed by Columbus Landscape Architecture and Engineering Company, MCS and the Department of Transportation. from Ohio.
The district plans to apply for a grant for the Safe Routes to School program. A national initiative, the program provides resources, technical assistance and project funding to encourage K-8 students to walk or cycle to school. ODOT receives $4 million annually for SRTS projects in five categories: engineering, encouragement, education, enforcement, and evaluation. Each project typically costs around $400,000, which includes sidewalks, crosswalks, flashing crosswalk signs and curbs, according to ODOT.
Superintendent Ron Iarussi said about a year ago the administration had discussions about safe routes to school, particularly around Harrison Elementary School. Marion Public Health later suggested the district should seek funding to provide safer pathways for children, such as sidewalks and bike lanes.
Walcoff said Toole and MCS have collected information over the past year, such as distributing surveys to managers and caregivers and conducting walk audits.
She said for Grant Middle School, there are 14 locations that could potentially benefit from sidewalk improvements, with a separate bike lane providing an effective countermeasure. Also, Garfield and McKinley Elementary need sidewalk upgrades or replacements.
“When we talk about improving a sidewalk, let’s say you’re missing a few blocks of sidewalk, but you have a sidewalk on each side or just a few houses missing, so it could be something simpler than we would claim as an improvement,” she said.
Issues raised by the investigations included concerns about excessive speeding cars and traffic around Hayes Elementary and the lack of before and after school traffic monitoring at Taft Elementary.
However, one solution that could make access to the school safer is a shared use pathway for pedestrians and cyclists, which is under discussion for George Washington Elementary.
“When something is on more than one plane like that, it’s going to have more benefits than if it was just on one plane, so it’s possible that it’s something that rises to the top when we start to identify the most important to the least important projects,” Walcoff said.
During the public comment period, Marion resident Dave Claborn said that when his seven-year-old daughter used to go to Harrison, accompanying her to school was unsafe.
“I was walking to school with a lady and her three little girls, one of whom was in a pram and the cars are coming out, trying to run away after picking up their kids or trying to drop them off,” he said.
In 2019, a A 7-year-old boy was hit by a car trying to cross Forest Street, just east of the school, outside a crosswalk.
Claborn spoke to Iarussi and City Engineer Scott Bishop last year about organizing a fundraiser to install more sidewalks on Brightwood Drive, which was successful.
“If we can use this funding to develop the concept, I think it would make it a much more walkable neighborhood,” he said.
The next steps for Toole and MCS are to prepare a draft plan by next month for ODOT to review and to ask the school board and city council in September to adopt the plan. By December, the district hopes to be able to prepare for the January application round for the SRTS project.