Local schools receive Safe Routes to School funding

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LAKE COUNTY – The California Department of Transportation recently awarded $52 million to cities and counties for 139 projects funded through the state’s Safe Routes to School program, which is designed to give students in grades K-12 easier and healthier ways to safely travel to and from schools.


State Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), who represents much of the North Coast in the 2nd Senate District, was a co-author of the original bill (AB 1475, by Assemblywoman Nell Soto) establishing Safe Routes to School funding in 1999. A number of communities in the 2nd District – which stretches from Solano County to Humboldt County – received funding in the latest cycle.


According to CalTrans, the Lakeport schools – Lakeport Elementary, Terrace Heights, Terrace Middle School and Clear Lake High School – received $499,860 in grant funding for a street improvement project, the total cost of which is $555,400.


Caltrans reported that the project will include constructing curb, gutter and sidewalk, and a retaining structure, and installing crosswalks, traffic signs and fences. Improvements will be completed along Hartley Street, from the intersection with 20th Street to 428 feet south of the city limit.


Since the program’s inception, Caltrans has awarded $196 million for 709 Safe Routes to School projects. In 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 57 (also authored by Nell Soto), extending Safe Routes to School funding indefinitely.


On its Web site, Caltrans describes Safe Routes to School as “an international movement that has taken hold in communities throughout the United States. The concept is to increase the number of children who walk or bicycle to school by funding projects that remove the barriers that currently prevent them from doing so. Those barriers include lack of infrastructure, unsafe infrastructure, lack of programs that promote walking and bicycling through education/encouragement programs aimed at children, parents, and the community.”


The highly competitive program (local school districts, boards, city councils and state agencies can request funding through yearly application cycles) has enabled communities to increase the safety of children walking or riding to school.


“Pedestrian accidents have been a leading cause of fatal injuries for school-aged children, including in school zones lacking crosswalks or sidewalks,” Wiggins said. “That is one of the many great things about this program: Funds can be used for crosswalks, pedestrian and bicycle pathways, bike lanes, sidewalks and a number of ‘traffic calming’ measures.


“By creating a more hospitable environment for children to walk or ride to school,” Wiggins added, “we are also helping to promote exercise, which is a necessary component of the effort to reduce the incidence of obesity in our young people.”


Thirty years ago, 60 percent of children living within a two-mile radius of a school walked or bicycled to school. Today, that number has dropped to less than 15 percent, according to information provided by Wiggins' office.


Roughly 25 percent commute by school bus, and well over half are driven to/from school in vehicles. And back then, 5 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 were considered to be overweight or obese, Wiggins office reported. Today, that number has climbed to 20 percent.


These statistics point to a rise in preventable childhood diseases, worsening air quality and congestion around schools, and missed opportunities for children to grow into self reliant, independent adults.


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