Grand Forks, North Dakota: Safe Kids Promotes Comprehensive SRTS Program

Introduction

For the past 20 years Safe Kids, a group focused on injury prevention in children, has worked with the Grand Forks school district, in Grand Forks, N.D., to encourage its students to walk and bicycle safely to school. Currently, there are 11 public schools and two private schools in Grand Forks with which Safe Kids Grand Forks works to implement Safe Routes to School (SRTS) activities. And with the recent award for two infrastructure projects and one noninfrastructure grant, pedestrian and bicycle safety will continue to improve for Grand Forks students.

Activities

Children participate in International Walk to School Day.In conjunction with the Grand Forks school district, Safe Kids was awarded a non-infrastructure grant for $42,000 in federal SRTS funds though the North Dakota Department of Transportation. About $21,000 of this grant money will be used to purchase crosswalk equipment, safety vests, traffic cones to mark no parking zones and handheld stop signs. The remainder of the grant money will be put toward the various education and encouragement activities in Grand Forks. Safe Kids Grand Forks has organized many pedestrian safety encouragement and education activities throughout the school district for the past five years and bicycle safety presentations for the past 20 years. Of the more than 3,000 students who attend the Grand Forks schools, almost 1,500 walk or bicycle to school at some time during the school year.

Every fall there is a pedestrian safety presentation, designed to educate and train the children on proper crosswalk procedures, driver behavior and the importance of wearing reflective clothing to promote safe pedestrian practices is a pedestrian safety presentation. To make the presentation interactive and fun, the students participate in a scavenger hunt in which they receive a school map featuring the different crosswalks. The students find the crosswalks where volunteers deliver pedestrian safety lessons before crossing.

The schools also participate in International Walk to School Day in October. And each spring there is a Bike Rodeo, which is a bicycle presentation that teaches the students proper hand signals. Prior to the bike rodeo, Safe Kids Grand Forks provides students education on head injuries and bike helmet use. Helmets are sold at a reduced cost or provided to students for free if there is a financial hardship.

Safe Kids Grand Forks believes that rewarding positive behavior will motivate the students to continue walking and bicycling safely to school, and the group utilizes different incentive programs to achieve this motivation. One such program is “Walk to Win,” an incentive program led by the local hospital. In this challenge, the students track their walking miles earned by walking by themselves, with their parents or in gym class. Each school that reaches its mileage goal receives $500 from Altru Health System for gym equipment. A new incentive event implemented in the fall of 2006 is called “Caught in the Crosswalks.” This incentive program provides coupons and certificates to the school crossing guards, school nurse or principal to hand out to children practicing proper crosswalk behavior. Another new event is the “Bike and Breakfast,” which  occurs each spring following the head injury and bicycle helmet presentations at each school.

The students who bicycle to school and wear a helmet receive juice and a granola bar at the school’s bicycle rack. These treats are handed out by Safe Kids volunteers, the school principal or the school nurse. It provides a positive reinforcement for the students practicing a safe and healthy behavior. Local law enforcement personnel are provided with “Cone Head Certificates” to give to children “caught” wearing a helmet during the summer months.

Grand Forks officials saw a need for infrastructure improvements if SRTS success was to continue. Some of the sidewalks around the schools had no ramps, making them less accessible to the younger children, those on bike and parents with strollers. Also, the harsh winters and the snow plowing that ensues wears down the crosswalk striping. In April 2007, the city of Grand Forks applied for two federal SRTS infrastructure grants: one for $84,100 to improve pedestrian crossing and traffic devices around three Grand Forks elementary and middle schools and a $43,018 grant for the installation of accessibility ramps around four Grand Forks schools. With the funds, the sidewalk accessibility and crosswalk issues will be resolved. The city plans to install recessed pavement marking, so the plows can drive over the stripes without causing them to fade. Also, the city plans to update its signage to become more visible to pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers.

Milestones

Safe Kids Grand Forks wants to change the mentality of people in the community to focus on decreasing childhood obesity by encouraging children to participate in physical activity but also assure that it is done safely. The group has plans to extend its work to neighboring communities that have other schools interested in implementing SRTS programs. The city was notified in July 2007 that it would receive the SRTS funds for the two infrastructure grant applications. Infrastructure improvements are to begin in June 2008, weather permitting, and will take about three months to complete.

Contacts

Carma Hanson, Coordinator — Safe Kids Grand Forks
Altru Health System
860 Columbia Road, P.O. Box 6002
Grand Forks, ND 58206-6002
Phone: (701) 780-1489
Email: chanson@altru.org

Jane L. Williams, City Traffic Engineer
255 N. 4th Street, P.O. Box 5200
Grand Forks, ND 58206-5200
Phone: (701) 787-3720
Email: jwilliams@grandforksgov.com