Neighborhoods and schools in Taylor will be connected with a 2.4-mile pedestrian and bike path to make the way to school safer for elementary, middle and high school students.
Taylor has a growing population of approximately 18,000, and it is part of the Austin metropolitan area. Its economy is based on both agriculture and manufacturing. The community within Williamson County takes pride in its ethnic diversity.
The lack of sidewalks to schools has long been a concern, according to City Manager Jim Dunaway. Where no sidewalks exist, pedestrians have walked alongside the roads.
“We have traffic everywhere,” Dunaway says. “It’s a major safety issue.”
The City of Taylor was awarded $574,000 in Safe Routes to School infrastructure funds from the Texas Department of Transportation in 2008 to build 2.4 miles of sidewalks that will connect the elementary, middle and high schools. The total overall project cost including preliminary engineering and construction contingencies will amount to approximately $750,000, according to Carol Campa, State SRTS Coordinator for the Texas DOT. The Pedestrian/Bicycle Loop will provide a safe route along city thoroughfares and will connect parks, trails, retail centers, and medical facilities.
“The first major benefit would be the safety of the children walking between the schools,” Dunaway says. “This will tie the campuses together. I would hope it would get other people out and about.”
The City of Taylor partnered with the Taylor Independent School District to apply for the funds for the sidewalk project that will connect four schools: Naomi Pasemann Elementary, which has 804 students in grades 1 to 3, T.H. Johnson Elementary, which has 669 students in grades 4 and 5, Taylor Middle School with 681 students in grades 6 to 8 and Taylor High School, which has 878 students, in grades 9 to 12.
One key to the program’s success so far has been an open public process during which officials explained community benefits to the property owners along the routes and other stakeholders.
“Several affected property owners did not want the sidewalks adjacent to their houses,” says Taylor City Engineer Casey B. Sledge. “Several public meetings were held to discuss how to mitigate the effects of sidewalk construction. After hearing all sides, the City Council approved the planned location of the sidewalks.”
Sledge credits input from teachers and parents with helping move the plan forward. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2009. The city will oversee project management and inspections, Dunaway says.
The sidewalks will connect neighborhoods to schools in areas where no sidewalks existed and will also connect school to school, explains Sledge. The improvements will benefit 2,188 students. Currently, only 213 students walk to school because there are so few sidewalks that lead to the schools; there are neither bike paths nor organized walking activities, he adds.
“We anticipate a significant increase in walking after construction is complete,” Sledge says.
The schools and city intend to work together to offer pedestrian safety information to students, Dunaway says, and the School Resource Officers will lead bike safety classes.
This is the first grant the city has obtained that required no matching funds, Dunaway adds, and the impact will be invaluable.
“We would like to continue increasing connectivity and encouraging walking/biking by expanding the City and School’s infrastructure,” Sledge says.
City Manager Jim Dunaway
Taylor City Engineer Casey B. Sledge