Safe Routes to Schools program is a progressive step
Aug 07, 2013 | 4568 views |  0 comments | 94 94 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you like speed bumps, you’re going to love the raised crosswalks that will be popping up on South Street in Talladega in the next few weeks. They will be at about the same height as the curbs, and drivers who don’t seriously reduce their speed will be in for quite an unpleasant ride.

They are part of an effort to “calm” traffic under a federal grant program called “Safe Routes to Schools”.

If you’re not a fan of speed bumps, before you call the city to complain, consider this: a recent traffic study documented a number of drivers on South Street traveling at speeds of 50 and 60 miles per hour. Something needs to be done, and once installed the raised crosswalks will be on duty 24/7.

The street is partly residential, but also the major thoroughfare in an area home to the city’s public library, Heritage Hall Museum, schools for the deaf and blind, a middle school, an elementary school, tennis courts, a playground and the Presbyterian Home for Children. Orientation and Mobility instructors regularly use streets in the area to teach visually impaired clients how to get around on their own.

The city applied for a $150,000 grant, which doesn’t require a local match, that is being used to add new sidewalks on three streets, provide curb cuts at several intersections and add the crosswalks and striping.

The idea behind the federal grant is to encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and ride bicycles to school by providing a safer and more appealing transportation alternative.

Right now there aren’t many children in the area doing that, in Talladega or around the country. One study estimates that in 1969, about half of America’s children walked or rode bikes to school, at least part of the time, but today that has fallen below 15 percent.

At the same time obesity rates have soared. It is hoped that by encouraging walking and riding bicycles, a new generation of Americans will adopt a healthier lifestyle. Many parents have discouraged their children from walking or biking to school simply because of safety concerns. Making the streets safer could be a first step in turning that around.

It is also hoped that it will be an opportunity to teach students about safety when traveling by foot or by bike.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that 12 to 14 percent of traffic fatalities each year — about 4,000 people — are pedestrians or bicycle riders. Part of the purpose of the Safe Routes to Schools program is to make those areas safe and to provide opportunities for students to learn and practice safe ways to cross streets and become more aware of vehicular traffic.

Middle school students who live within practical walking or biking distance of their schools are seen as prime candidates for making a change in their habits, at least part of the time. It is hoped parents will walk with younger children to school, and in some parts of the country, “Walking School Buses” have been organized with trained supervisors leading groups of students to school. The program offers flexibility in how it can be utilized.

Talladega’s grant is one of 26 awarded in Alabama since the program began in 2005. So far awards in the state total $4.8 million out of $1.1 billion allocated by the federal government.

It’s part of an international effort to encourage healthier lifestyles and reduce traffic congestion, and we’re glad to see the city’s leadership taking advantage of the opportunity to improve traffic safety in the city.