The hard work and dedication of parent volunteers at Howe Avenue Elementary has paid off in a big way: Caltrans recently announced the approved project list for their latest round of Safe Routes to School grants and Sacramento County has been awarded $448,000 for construction of sidewalks on the west side of Howe Avenue between El Camino Avenue and Red Robin Lane.
The participation of parent volunteers in identifying obstacles and encouraging students to walk undoubtedly made the application stronger. WALKSacramento began working with a small group of parents concerned about the safety of walking to school in spring last year as part of the Sacramento County Safe Routes Five E’s project in partnership with the Sacramento County Department of Transportation (SacDOT). At first, the parent volunteers were primarily interested in starting a walk-to-school program because it was one of the few actions they could take immediately to increase safety. However, when 7-year-old Tayvon Webb was fatally injured trying to cross Howe Avenue on his way home from school in November, the parent volunteers knew they needed to voice their concerns about the barriers to walking to school. They attended a walk audit with WALKSacramento and SacDOT, they prioritized their concerns, and they worked harder on starting a walking program.
A walking school bus program was launched in January this year. Every Wednesday morning, parent volunteers lead students on four different routes to school. They also lead walks home from school in the afternoon, which is unusual for Safe Routes to School programs. Furthermore, parent volunteers encourage walking by handing flags to students crossing Howe Avenue at the pedestrian signal in front of school. They do this every day. You can read more about the program in our previous post.
Safe Routes to School funding is very competitive—only 139 projects were awarded out of 336 applications in this last round. Situations are different at every school, but there are some key things that happened at Howe Avenue Elementary that every school can learn from and use to increase its competitiveness when seeking SRTS funding. First, the parent volunteers recognized a problem and set out to fix it with the tools they had available to them. They did not wait for walking conditions to be better before encouraging walking, and each of the parents involved gave the amount of time that they could to the program, whether it was a little or a lot. Second, the school and parents responded positively to a tragic event. Everyone was devastated by the loss of Tayvon, but they came together to help SacDOT see the barriers, prioritize improvements, and submit a strong application, rather than pointing fingers and demanding immediate fixes. Third, the efforts of the parents to increase safety were enhanced by the involvement of many partners including WALKSacramento, SacDOT, and the San Juan Unified School District. Parents started out doing what they could alone, but their program was able to grow and get funding because of the partnerships that were formed.
Howe Avenue Elementary is the third school in the Sacramento County Safe Routes Five E’s project to get infrastructure improvements funded. Mary Deterding Elementary was awarded a grant in 2010 and Anna Kirchgater Elementary was awarded a grant in 2011, both for sidewalk construction. WALKSacramento conducted walk audits and made recommendations for improvements for all three schools, and we are very excited to see our work resulting in tangible improvements to walkability in Sacramento County.