The Montana Nutrition and Physical Activity Program (MT NAPA) at Montana State University in Bozeman, in collaboration with the local Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Task Force, initiated a SRTS pilot program at the Emily Dickinson Elementary School in the hopes that the school’s success would lead to the implementation of SRTS activities at all of the six elementary schools in the city.
To jumpstart the program in Bozeman, MT NAPA worked with walkability consultants and helped form a local SRTS task force to work with Emily Dickinson, a kindergarten through fifth grade elementary school. The consultants performed a walkability audit and pointed out potential safety hazards to the principal. One such hazard was a road under construction that the students crossed to arrive at school. Despite the new construction resulting in a wider road, there were no plans to enhance the safety accommodations for pedestrians at the crosswalk.
As a result, the principal addressed the safety issues during the public comment period at a city commission meeting, which led to the inclusion of a pedestrian refuge island in the problematic spot. The commission’s responsiveness encouraged the task force to increase its SRTS efforts, and in October 2006, Emily Dickinson conducted its first Walk to School Day event. In December 2006, the local task force, with city sponsorship, submitted a grant to the Montana Department of Transportation and received more than $50,000 for non-infrastructure and infrastructure improvements at Emily Dickinson. On Oct. 1, 2007, the mayor of Bozeman proclaimed October as Walk to School Month, and the school board made a resolution in support of the Bozeman SRTS effort.
Prior to the actual Walk to School Day event on Oct. 3, nearly 400 students and parents attended the Walk to School Day pre-party at Emily Dickinson, where a healthy meal was served and stations were set up for children to learn pedestrian safety lessons and for parents to sign up to volunteer for the walking school buses. A band played songs about walking, a local bicycle shop raffled off one of its bicycles, and the state’s SRTS coordinator came to discuss the grant program. The party excited the children for Walk to School Day, in which hundreds of students and parents lined up to form a special walking school bus led by their school mascot, a dog named Carlo.
Other aspects of the Emily Dickinson SRTS program include walking school buses and bike trains, bicycle and pedestrian safety programs, the installation of speed trailers around the school to help the enforcement programs, a SRTS handbook to explain the program to parents, new bicycle racks, a change in the pick-up and drop-off procedure to increase safety and pre and post evaluations to determine if the SRTS program has led to an increase in students walking and bicycling.
Subsequently, MT NAPA members presented during the public comment session at a city commission meeting and suggested to the commission the inclusion in their annual budget of funds to conduct a SRTS assessment of the entire school district to help prioritize projects. The commission voted five to zero to allocate $20,000 of city funds to hire a consulting firm experienced in SRTS projects to conduct this assessment. In a show of support, the city bicycle board allocated nearly $10,000 in additional funding to augment this effort. Other fund raising efforts are being conducted in the community to support the project.
In the future, the SRTS task force, the city and the school district plan to use this baseline data to prioritize SRTS projects and secure additional funding for infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects at the six elementary schools, two middle schools and at the one elementary school slated to be built in the near future.
On Nov. 1, 2007, a SRTS community workshop was held to kick-off the new SRTS projects and to educate principals, teachers, parents and the public as to the project’s importance. The workshop provided an opportunity for attendees to comment on safety issues at the various elementary schools and recruited volunteers to perform the walking audits. To date, walking audits have been conducted at all six elementary schools and city and school officials have been informed of suggested revisions to the plans for the new school. Future plans to complete this phase of the city-funded project include school improvement plans for four elementary schools as well as SRTS maps delineating suggested routes. The remaining school improvement plans and maps will be finished as funding is secured.
Physical Activity Coordinator, Montana Nutrition and Physical Activity Program