NEW ULM - Several community partners have joined forces to develop an initiative called Safe Routes to School, reports District 88 Superintendent Jeff Bertrang.
As part of downsizing, New Ulm schools have implemented a two-mile busing exclusion, which means the district does not in usual circumstances provide busing to students who live within two miles of school, recaps Bertrang. The city is split by major traffic arteries, such as Broadway and Center Streets, that can be difficult and/or dangerous to cross for students walking or biking to and from school sites.
Recently, several entities - including all local schools, Brown County Public Health, Brown County Board of Commissioners, Allina Health System and the City of New Ulm - have begun a discussion about how to help make the city safer for walkers, while also promoting an active lifestyle and improved community health. The initiative also fits in with a Heart of New Ulm initiative, Complete Streets.
Each from a slightly different perspective, the community entities have discovered a convergence of their complementary goals, and they are jointly applying for a MnDOT planning grant. The application deadline is Jan. 31. The results of the grant process will be announced in April.
The grant would allow the agencies involved to develop a mutually agreed upon plan on how to accomplish stated goals. This grant would be a prerequisite for another grant application in the near future - for funds that would allow agencies to put the plan into action.
The discussion is focused on educating the public, the redesign of sidewalks and crossing areas to improve safety and encourage walking, recruiting community volunteers to walk along younger children, etc.
The school district has started work on these issues, with the work including the collection of data about traffic patterns and family habits.
Encouraging students to walk would encourage a healthier lifestyle and alleviate traffic problems around schools but may involve encouraging a shift in family habits and culture, said Bertrang.
Both small and larger steps would potentially be taken to implement and approved plan. These could include and educational package for students and families, putting up additional signage, street improvements (with intersection redesigns, pedestrian islands, etc., that fit in with a city program), instituting a "walking bus" of young walkers, redesigning traffic flow around the main school campus, in potential co-operation with St. Paul's Lutheran School and the City of New Ulm, etc., according to a list of potential steps shared by Bertrang.