Petal, MS, is a community of 10,000 people, 300 streets and four sidewalks. Petal Elementary School and Petal High school are located off a busy highway about four miles outside of town and cannot be approached safely by foot or bicycle. For a high school student without a car living two miles from the high school, the only way to school is a one hour bus ride. W. L. Smith Elementary School and Petal Middle School are located in the downtown area and are more accessible by foot or bicycle, but they still lack the necessary infrastructure to allow many children to walk or bicycle to school safely.
In 1993, the current Ward 4 Alderman of Petal brought bicycle education to the elementary schools of Petal. The program featured stunt bicyclists who performed for approximately an hour with breaks to teach the children important bicycle and pedestrian safety rules. The performances were a great success and were delivered 75 more times over the next three years, reaching a 13 county area. In summer 2007, Mississippi’s Department of Transportation announced that Petal would receive $213,028 in federal Safe Routes to School funds. The money will fund one mile of bicycle lanes and five miles of sidewalk, including a sidewalk connecting W. L. Smith to a YMCA that is three blocks away. A portion of the money will be dedicated to connecting some of the surrounding subdivisions to Petal Elementary School. Additionally, $3,000 has been used for education and encouragement programs, such as the successful stunt bicycle performances.
The implementation stage of the infrastructure grant plan has not begun, but non-infrastructure encouragement and education programs have started. Parents and citizens are excited that their children will be able to walk and bicycle to school safely. In the past, children were bussed from the school to the YMCA each afternoon, but once the sidewalk linking the two places is built, the children can walk instead. It is expected that the number of bicyclists and pedestrians to school will increase in the next few years as the bicycle lane and sidewalk are completed and as encouragement and education activities continue to increase awareness.
Ward 4 Alderman