Building infrastructure around school environments
Interest in walking and riding a bicycle to school is on the rise. Parents are expressing enthusiasm about neighborhoods that provide safe walking and bicycling routes for their children. This return to nostalgia has significant benefits: children who walk or bike to school are exercising regularly, and fewer cars on the roadway reduces traffic congestion. With communities and clients calling for pedestrian access to schools, it’s time to rethink how we use roadways to create safer routes to school for children.
As transportation engineers, there are many tools that we can use to create a pedestrian-friendly environment. Curb extensions and bump-outs narrow roadways, causing cars to slow down. It also increases pedestrian visibility and creates a shorter distance for school children to walk across.
Using the complete streets methodology, context-sensitive designs guide corridors to fit the community’s needs. A school near a major highway might benefit from being connected to nearby neighborhoods with a meandering sidewalk or a greenway. For an area with city blocks, highly visible pedestrian crosswalks, elevated sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes may be more suitable.
Since 2005, the Safe Routes to School National Partnership is a nonprofit organization that focuses on creating safe communities for children. They work with schools and policy makers to push for safer infrastructure near and around schools by providing resources about safe pedestrian access and practices. If a community brings the program on board, projects that promote the SRTS initiative are eligible for federal funding. These include bicycle lanes, pathways, sidewalks, greenways and other transportation alternatives and enhancements.
Mead & Hunt has applied bicycle and pedestrian safety upgrades to roadway projects, including pathways with access to nearby schools. Our Aynor Overpass and Multi-Use Path project in Aynor, South Carolina directly connects neighborhoods east of US 501 to Aynor Elementary School and Aynor High School without impeding the heavily trafficked highway. Various SRTS guidelines were implemented to protect pedestrians from the vehicular traffic. The path meanders away from the roadway to create a large buffer and incorporates a parkway feel complete with a boardwalk. Today, the Aynor High School cross country teams regularly use this pathway as a practice route. The Aynor Overpass and Multi-Use Path successfully integrates the neighborhoods, the nearby schools and the roadways into a safe environment for students.
It’s important to understand how a community will use your path before you start the design process. Using a safety-first approach for projects that connect the public to nearby schools is a smart initial step to creating walkable environments for children.
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