'Safe Routes to School' Program Progresses In San Marco

April 28, 2011 26 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

You can never be too young to plan out a better neighborhood. Recently, middle school students at Julia Landon College Preparatory Academy (JLCP) worked with local departments to make the environment around their San Marco-neighborhood school safer.

Students at JLCP make recommendations for Safe Routes To School (SRTS) Program

Middle school students at JLCP worked with representatives from the City of Jacksonville Planning and Public Works Departments and the Florida Department of Transportation to make the environment around their neighborhood school safer. The Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida (www.hpcnef.org) facilitated the SRTS Infrastructure Application Grant on behalf of the Parent, Teacher, and Student Association (PTSA). SRTS is a Federal Highway Program, administered through the State Department of Transportation, with an overall goal to make it safer, easier, and more fun for children in grades K-8 to walk or bicycle to and from school.

The process entailed an environmental survey of the neighborhood within a one-mile radius of the school. Streets with missing sidewalks, deficient signage at intersections, a lack of designated crosswalks, unmarked school zones, or a lack of designated bike lanes was an issue identified during the planning process. Students who currently walk and/or ride their bicycle to school provided valuable insights and suggestions.

JLCP exemplifies the characteristics of a good neighborhood school. As a middle school with a total enrollment of 730 students, it is centrally located in a community where students can walk and ride their bicycles to school. “The neighborhood unit, as defined by Clarence Perry in his 1929 Regional Survey of New York and its Environs survey, is a physical environment in which a mother knows that her child is in easy walking distance from home.” This is a basic concept, but it is grounded in historic planning design theory; the overarching goal of SRTS supports this - to create a safe environment for all students to walk and bicycle to their neighborhood school. In addition, this transportation alternative reduces traffic and air pollution in the vicinity of schools, and encourages healthy and active lifestyles.

Parents, community leaders, and school staff were also on the committee. “Parents are very concerned with the safety of our children," said Laura Skiles, parent of a 7th-grade bike rider, “I have witnessed some vehicle and bicycle conflicts that go unreported. It's good that no serious injuries have occurred to date, but it is disturbing to hear some of the students' experiences. Walking and biking to their neighborhood schools is a wonderful part of childhood that they should get to experience in a safe and positive way.”

The Safe Routes to School Program (SRTS) was authorized in August 2005 by Section 1404 of the federal transportation act, SAFETEA-LU (the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users).

Implementing The Plan

In addition, The Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida recently received notice that they will be awarded a community mini-grant from the Healthy Jacksonville Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition. Program description below:

Safe Routes to School: Plan, Educate and Implement
Implement Safe Routes to School Program for Julia Landon College Preparatory (JLCP) with support and participation from the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), School Advisory Board (SAC), school administration, teachers and students. Improve pedestrian and bicycle routes to JLCP within a 1 to 2 mile radius of the school to provide a safe route to school and the opportunity for increased physical activity. A safer environment includes, but is not limited to connected sidewalks, safe crosswalks, reduced vehicle speed and proper traffic signalization as identified during the San Marco by Design planning process and walkability audit.  This program includes an education component to implement a health and safety curriculum that will reinforce the importance of active living and creating healthy environments through responsible urban design practices throughout our communities.

This article was produced by Valerie Feinberg, AICP, Director of Health Assessment and Urban Planning, The Health Planning Council of Northeast Florida.