Volunteers can help Safe Routes to School effort

Debbie Blank | The Herald-TribuneSafe Routes to School committee members (clockwise from left) Dr. Jim Roberts, Ed Krause, Chris Weigel, Mike Bettice, Chris Bradford, Anna Ibold and Melissa Tucker dig through a report from consultants.

In late 2014 the Indiana State Department of Health Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity awarded a $40,000 Safe Routes to School grant to Batesville. The partners who obtained the funding — Margaret Mary Health, the city of Batesville and Batesville Community School Corp. — agreed to contribute money, too, so about $48,000 was available.

In 2015 engineering consultants at Parsons Brinckerhoff, Cincinnati, were hired to develop a plan. They met with students and questioned their walking and biking routes. BCSC transportation and safety director Ed Krause, who co-chairs the committee with Batesville Parks and Recreation Commissioner Chris Bradford, said during a meeting April 8, “We’re looking mainly at walking routes because Batesville’s streets are very narrow” for cyclists.

Consultants also observed student pickups and dropoffs at BCSC K-8 buildings and St. Louis Catholic School and talked to kids about barriers and difficulties with strolling to school. Parents also were asked to complete an online survey for Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Recommendations arrived in early 2016 and the co-chairs, Mayor Mike Bettice and BCSC superintendent Dr. Jim Roberts studied them Feb. 1.

At the April 8 meeting, they and other committee members went over the findings.

Just back from an April 5-7 National Safe Routes to School Conference in Columbus, Ohio, Krause pointed out, “Pediatricians talk about the benefits of kids walking to school” to combat obesity. “Kids who walk to school are generally more physically active, they do better in school. It’s all interrelated.”

Students may not always consider the safest routes. He maintained, “The kids are going to go where they can get there the quickest.”

The committee decided to organize the third Batesville Walk to School Day May 11. The last two have started at Liberty Park. The group is considering adding a location, perhaps apartments were the student population is dense, such as McNair Manor or Amber Oaks. According to Krause, “We have a lot of kids from Amber Oaks who walk to school now.”

The transportation director noted Walk to School Day is safe because of the walking school bus concept. A walking school bus is a group of children accompanied by one or more adults, who supervise and decide when it’s safe to cross a street.

The superintendent wondered whether enough parents, older neighbors and other citizens would volunteer to lead groups of kids to school on a regular basis. “Maybe a group each picks a day” of the week, he proposed. According to the www.walkingschoolbus.org Web site, “A walking school bus can be as informal as two families taking turns walking their children to school to as structured as a route with meeting points, a timetable and a regularly rotated schedule of trained volunteers.”

Adult crossing guard volunteers also are needed at four spots along suggested routes (please see box).

Roberts said, “One thing we are unaware of is our capacity of volunteers. If there’s any interest in helping with this effort,” persons may contact Krause at 812-934-2194 or ekrause@batesville.k12.in.us.

He said committee leaders should explore how other schools successfully got more students to walk.

The consultants made 30 recommendations with a probable upper end cost of $402,000. Roberts urged considering the 11 marked A, which had higher priorities than the rest marked B and C. “I would like this group to narrow it down to five. Look at importance of task and price. Combine importance with feasibility.”

Bradford said he was in favor of “anything that talks about educating parents. Something I overheard this week on NPR ... there’s this movement out there to bring more nature to kids. We don’t go out(side) anymore and just play. Parents just don’t feel as comfortable letting them go” unsupervised. He suggested creating a map with safe routes parents can use. “We can update that as we do improvements on sidewalks.”

Bradford also encouraged a January Walk to School Day next year. “If we’re going to walk to school, let’s do it any time.”

MMH employee Chris Weigel reported recommendation 11 was “near and dear to my heart” – at the Mulberry and Main intersection, install a continental (big stripes) crosswalk and ADA-compliant curb ramps at an estimated $5,000 cost and hire an adult crossing guard. “I walk. People don’t know where to stop. That’s a nightmare there.”

Bettice was concerned that BIS walking students were close to vehicles picking up other students. Krause pointed out safety there will come at a price, $20,000-$25,000 to construct 300 feet of sidewalks.

Roberts asked committee members to have conversations about recommendations with their co-workers and then report back about their top rankings at a May 6 meeting.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

Progress made on suggested routes

• A Safe Routes to School preferred routes draft by Parsons Brinckerhoff shows existing sidewalks on Western, Beech Grove and North and South Park avenues; Main, Henry, Mulberry, East and West Pearl, East Boehringer and Smith streets. An existing multiuse Liberty Trail runs along South Mulberry and the Pohlman extension. A proposed multiuse path goes on Columbus Avenue from State Road 46 to Mulberry Street. A proposed sidewalk is needed on Central Avenue between Mulberry Street and Park Avenue and for small sections of County Line Road and Fifth Street behind Batesville Intermediate School. Adult crossing guards are recommended at South Mulberry and Main; Main and St. Louis Place; Mulberry in front of Batesville Middle School; and behind BIS, where walkers and vehicles mix.

• On March 14 the city council approved Ordinance 6-2016, allowing for sidewalk additions along Central Avenue between Park Avenue and Mulberry Street, Huntersville Road between Columbus Avenue and County Line Road and on Columbus Avenue between EGS Boulevard and Huntersville Road.

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