Despite the extraordinary economic challenges faced in Hamtramck, Mich., community leaders, local foundations and state government worked together to build a strong Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program. The city of Hamtramck, with a population of 25,000, encompasses two square miles and is almost entirely surrounded by the city of Detroit. The median income in Hamtramck is $26,000. In 2007, the City of Hamtramck lost one-third of its revenue due to a downturn in the automotive industry. The city recently emerged from receivership and has limited funding available for services.
Hamtramck is one of eight Michigan cities designated as a City of Promise by Governor Jennifer Granholm, a designation that reflects high levels of poverty and unemployment.
Hamtramck is home to 2,500 public and charter school students, most all of whom live near enough to walk to school. It is a compact city, and as Mayor Pro Tem Scott Klein says, “You can literally reach out your window and touch your neighbor’s home.” Twenty four languages are spoken in Hamtramck schools and immigrants from many countries continue to make their homes in the City.
Safe Routes to School goals were to: 1) improve safety for children and educate parents regarding walking to school, 2) encourage readiness to learn and success in the classroom by increasing safety on the way to school, 3) reduce traffic around schools at starting and ending time making it safer for walkers; 4) encourage parental and community support for walking to school, 5) repair infrastructure; and 6) improve the working relationship between the City, the public schools and charter schools.
Michigan requires a SRTS action plan be completed as a prerequisite to applying for federal funds, and those who assisted with the SRTS action planning process in Hamtramck included the City of Hamtramck and Mayor’s office; Michigan Department of Transportation; Michigan Physical Fitness, Health, and Sports Foundation; Michigan State Housing Development Authority; school district and charter school leaders; and the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS). ACCESS became the lead agency for SRTS action planning in Hamtramck with the support of the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. Aswan Almaktary, the ACCESS Hamtramck Office Manager, became the SRTS champion and her strong commitment enabled the community to come together to form the Hamtramck Safe Routes to Schools Collaborative. Challenges that faced the Safe Routes to School Collaborative included tensions fostered by historic disagreements between community entities, language barriers, cultural differences, working parents’ schedules and limited time availability, economic hardship, and the perception among parents that the community was unsafe. The community had to be educated about the importance of working together to address how students arrive at school and the safety on routes to school.
Seven Hamtramck schools, both public and charter, began SRTS action planning activities in 2007 with the assistance of ACCESS. Local information was collected and analyzed using student and parent surveys, classroom travel tallies, environmental audits, and community forums. Highest priority barriers to walking to school were identified and a prioritized action plan was completed. Based on the action plan, a funding application was submitted to the Michigan Department of Transportation in 2008.
In September, 2008, the Michigan Department of Transportation awarded $967,406 to seven Hamtramck schools (approximately $138,000 per school) to implement both infrastructure and non-infrastructure activities and projects. Each school benefited from approximately $15,600 for education, encouragement and enforcement noninfrastructure activities identified in the action plan. The award for high priority infrastructure items, including the repair and replacement of 120,000 square feet of sidewalk, improvements to handicap accessibility of intersections, signage, and bike racks, was approximately $122,600 per school. Beginning in the fall of 2008, Almaktary worked with the seven schools, spanning grades K – 8, to implement the non-infrastructure activities. The biggest challenge she faced was encouraging parents’ involvement. Promoting the activities and engaging the community took time and repeated efforts. She used other agencies and programs for presentations where their objectives overlapped, such as AAA and ACCESS Community Health and Research Center, which includes mental as well as physical health. The City of Hamtramck was also involved, with education presentations from both the Chief of the Hamtramck Police and the Director of City Services. The Collaborative also connected SRTS to other school events.
“You need to have a deep commitment to the welfare of the kids, find partners that share your values, and be ready to commit time and energy to keep all players engaged,” Almaktary says.
Each school held kick-off events to introduce SRTS to the students, parents and community at large. After a presentation about the project, organizers handed out winter gloves and a raffle drawing was held. The events included food, arts and crafts, face painting and games — all intended to bring out community members and provide them with information about SRTS. Over the year, Almaktary also coordinated sessions about pedestrian safety, health, anti-bullying, and preferred routes in order to build parent support for walking to school. At these events other SRTS-purposed incentives were also distributed, including pedometers, backpacks, umbrellas, gloves, hats and scarves. Finally, an end-ofyear event highlighted the accomplishments and success of this project, and SRTS organizers passed out sets of gloves, hats and scarves.
“We aimed to encourage walking through the incentives we passed out,” Almaktary says. Other SRTS incentives were provided to adults who were assisting with parent patrols along routes. These incentives included jackets, vests and Walkie-Talkies. Finding a “Champion” key to SRTS program Almaktary’s role has been wide ranging. In addition to the work previously mentioned, she: 1) helped facilitate school and community events such as the Walk to School Day and a SRTS booth at the Hamtramck Health Fair; 2) volunteered at school events; 3) assisted with language interpretation and the translation of materials; 4) worked as part of a regional team to obtain additional funds to continue SRTS; 5) assisted the Cities of Promise team with SRTS-related initiatives; and 6) oversaw post-intervention surveying of parents, teachers and students to evaluate the project.
Post-intervention parent and student survey data, and classroom travel tally data, have been collected in Hamtramck. The Michigan State University SRTS research team is analyzing pre and post-test data to assess changes in attitudes, beliefs and travel behaviors. Findings will be available in the spring of 2010, and Dr. Christine Vogt may be contacted at email@example.com for evaluation updates. The Hamtramck Collaborative is a significant milestone. As Mayor Pro Tem Klein says, “A key to our success has been getting people to work together and to realize that we all want our kids to be successful in school and to arrive there safely and ready to learn.”
In addition to the SRTS grant, and in part because of the collaboration developed through SRTS, the City also has been awarded a $240,000 Transportation Enhancement grant to build bike facilities that will connect the schools with City parks and other public places.
Mayor Pro Tem
ACCESS Hamtramck Office Manager
Candance (Lee) Kokinakis, Michigan Fitness Foundation