Working for safe school routes

Nov. 23, 2011

The recent, unfortunate accident involving a car and a Longfellow Middle School student walking to school, with traffic stopped by a Crossing Guard, is a wakeup call for improved safety of our children. It is also a wakeup call for vastly improved driving habits. My thoughts and prayers go out to the young man and his family during his recovery.

Alderman Bobby Pantuso is absolutely right to call for a review of school zone safety. While the root of much of the concern lies in inattentive driving, what are some of the collaborative approaches and solutions within our control that can be used to make parents feel more comfortable about having their child walk to school?

During the past year, I have worked with a passionate group of McKinley School parents, led by Sarah Lerand, to develop a Safe Routes to School program. Although our primary goal is to create safer routes for walking and biking, we are also looking at the related benefits of enhancing the health of our kids and improving the environment. Our efforts have focused on a comprehensive approach, involving parents, the City, Police, School District, crossing guards, local businesses, and an array of organizations committed to these safety efforts, including the Wisconsin Safe Routes to School organization, Safe Kids, and the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. Our successful progress has included the following initiatives:

Extensive data collection of accident and traffic violation history in the area around McKinley, where we learned that of the 100 incidents over 3 years during the school day, almost 90 percent occur during student travel times. We also placed speed trailers along North Ave. and Swan Blvd. and tracked speeds as high as 60 mph during the school day.

Parent surveys to assess the numbers of students who walk to school (fewer than 50 percent) and to analyze comments, concerns and suggestions.

Education and awareness activities that include monthly school newsletter articles, monthly tallies of how many kids walk to school, presence at school functions, and an annual Walk to School Day.

A Crossing Guard Ambassador program where parent volunteers work with each of the four crossing guards to establish a partnering relationship dedicated to process improvements.

Four Walking School Buses, with volunteers formally leading small groups of students to school, enhancing visibility to drivers.

Fundraising efforts with local businesses, resulting in the involvement of North Shore Bank, Anytime Fitness, Locker’s Florist, Fair Trade for All, and Sendik’s. Their financial support, along with the Swan Boulevard and Parkway Estates Neighborhood Associations, have allowed the purchase of maps, vests, T-shirts, signage and two in-street crosswalk signs

Grant writing, which last week resulted in McKinley being awarded one of 25 National Safe Routes to School Mini Grants.

Walking to school has innumerable benefits to our health and environment but will only happen if it can be done safely and will only happen if we work together. By focusing our efforts to improve this safety, we are investing in our children and our future. Let’s learn from and build on the successful efforts of the McKinley parents to make all of Wauwatosa a safe and healthy community.

Alderman Jeff Roznowski represents Wauwatosa’s 6th District.

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