Faced with increasing pedestrian injuries and deaths, Pitt County formed the Walk this Way Pedestrian Safety Task Force, whose members share a common goal: to make the community safer for pedestrians. Pitt County is one of the fastest growing areas in North Carolina with a population of 152,068, and Greenville is the hub for this predominantly rural region with a disproportionate amount of poverty. The Eastern Carolina Injury Prevention Program (ECIPP) at Pitt County Memorial Hospital promotes programs targeted at reducing injury and promoting safety for children, and it has taken the lead helping the community develop a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program.
C. C. Eppes Middle School, which has 550 students, was built in 1957. It is located adjacent to the East Carolina University campus, with an elementary school less than a quarter of a mile away and sidewalks and bicycle racks on campus. Neighborhoods lack complete sidewalks to provide connectivity, and traffic congestion and poorly planned routes deter walking.
In Pitt County, 32 percent of children ages 2 to 18 years old are overweight or at risk of being overweight, according to Alice Keene, Special Projects Coordinator for Pitt County Community Schools and Recreation. In addition, 52 percent of the students in the school system are on free or reduced lunch. Approximately 50 percent of the schools are located in neighborhoods, but students also have been bused to balance the demographics in the schools. The neighborhood schools are not necessarily walkable because of a lack of sidewalks, as well as heavy traffic and major roadways, Keene says.
The Walk This Way Pedestrian Safety Task Force was created in December of 2006 with funding from Safe Kids Worldwide. The task force is coordinated by Ellen Walston of ECIPP, and includes partners from the school system, local law enforcement, Federal Express, city public works, N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT), students, parents, and health advocates. Parents surveyed at a PTA meeting said they were concerned about safety for their children who walked or bicycled to school, the lack of infrastructure to promote SRTS, and poor drivers. They also cited the lack of signage, adequate crosswalks, crossing guards and functioning crossing signals.
In 2007, the ECIPP received a $10,000 grant from Safe Kids Worldwide and Fed Ex to implement a pedestrian safety education program at a local middle school after the death of a student pedestrian. In fall 2008, Safe Kids Pitt County was awarded $2,000 from SKW for a Distracted Driver Research project at Eppes Middle. This two-phase project observed drivers’ distractions during school zone hours, educated parents and students and installed a MUTCD approved sign on campus to encourage drivers to minimize distractions and focus completely on driving. Safe Kids Pitt County was also awarded a photojournalism project grant of $1,000 from SKW in April 2008 in which 17 6th-grade students photographed unsafe pedestrian safety scenarios on campus.
In an effort to provide more connectivity to schools and other points of destination, several years ago the city changed its policy to require developers of new construction to install sidewalks. The city also began including sidewalk construction in its budget.
The N.C. Department of Transportation awarded the ECIPP with a $20,000 SRTS grant to incorporate non-infrastructure programs and activities at C.M. Eppes Middle School. Through this grant, the ECIPP has targeted the school’s students, parents, and neighbors with various educational, enforcement and encouragement strategies.
“Speeding traffic and driver distraction around the middle school was observed as two critical challenges to promoting walking and bicycling to the school,” explains Sarah W. O’Brien, Interim SRTS Coordinator for NCDOT’s SRTS program. Some of the SRTS federal funds were used to purchase and install speed-feedback signs as an enforcement strategy to target driver behavior.
Strong community partnerships have been formed through the Pedestrian Safety Task Force. The Greenville Police Department Traffic Safety Unit and the Pitt County Sheriff Traffic Safety Unit serve as guest speakers to educate parents, students, school personnel, and neighborhood associations about the importance of the SRTS programs and pedestrian/bicycle safety. They have implemented neighborhood speed watch programs and other enforcement programs. Keene notes that police have spent time around campus during school arrival and dismissal hours and “just their presence there makes people drive safer.”
The Pitt County Community Schools and Recreation Department has worked with the ECIPP to develop additional encouragement programs such as “A Walk Across North Carolina Contest,” mileage clubs, and a pedestrian safety brochure. The principal has been very supportive of the Walk To School Day events and pedestrian safety education programs. Eppes Middle has presented a pedestrian education component in physical education and health classes, and 261 students have participated. The City of Greenville Public Works Department and the NCDOT have provided technical support and in-kind labor for a previous pedestrian safety project. The Safe Communities Coalition of Pitt County, Inc., is producing a pedestrian safety video to be provided to students, parents, and staff at Eppes Middle.
Keene credits community collaboration for the success of the program.
“We’ve got a great team effort here,” she says.
Community comes together for pedestrian safety Improvements to make routes safer including improved crosswalks, signage, sidewalk repair, and mounted speed boards are underway at Eppes, and incentives such as pedometers, reflective armbands and zipper pulls, and pedestrian safety booklets and bookmarks have been provided to students who walk or bicycle to school. In addition to the Eppes Middle project, the ECIPP has been awarded a SRTS grant to enhance pedestrian safety at a new elementary school.
“With the outreach that the ECIPP has done through the Pedestrian Safety Task Force, this program continues to reach parents, students, neighborhood associations, as well as local law enforcement and school administration,” O’Brien says. “The education and awareness that this program brings to C.M. Eppes Middle School is already spreading to other schools within the city and county. Their success has encouraged four other schools within Pitt County to seek SRTS funds to encourage and enable more children to walk and bicycle to school safely.”
Alice F. Keene