Memorandum

City of Lawrence

Planning & Development Services

 

TO:

Diane Stoddard, Lawrence Interim City Manager

CC

Scott McCullough, Director, Planning and Development Services

Ron May, Director of Administrative Services, USD 497

FROM:

Jessica Mortinger, Senior Transportation Planner

Nick Voss, Project Engineer

Michael Showalter, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department

DATE:

March 8, 2016

RE:

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Planning Update

 

Background

The Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program is an effort by parents, schools, community leaders and government to improve the health and well-being of children by enabling and encouraging them to safely walk and bicycle to school. SRTS programs examine conditions around schools, conduct projects and activities that work to improve safety and accessibility, and reduce traffic and air pollution in the vicinity of schools. The Lawrence SRTS initiative is a collaborative effort between the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, Lawrence Public Schools, the City of Lawrence, and the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization. There has been considerable progress made in Lawrence in the two years since this partnership was formed and this memo details the SRTS planning process and accomplishments.

 

Data Collection & Evaluation

During 2014 and 2015, the SRTS Team and the Kansas University Work Group for Community Health and Development collected information using standardized instruments created by the National Safe Routes to School Data Center.

(1)          Student travel tallies - Travel tallies were collected through classroom participation in all 18 Lawrence public K-8 schools (approximately 350 classrooms). These tallies showed that 68.4% of schoolchildren get to school in their family vehicle, while less than one in five walk or ride a bike.

(2)           Parent surveys - These surveys were used to collect input about existing walking/cycling activities and parent concerns. One finding was that two out of three parents living within ¼ to ½ mile of their school said their children want to walk or bike to school. The top 3 barriers to this—cited by parent respondents—were: 1) safety, particularly at intersections and crossings, 2) the amount of traffic along walking routes, and 3) the speed of traffic along routes.

 

The SRTS team plans to continue to collect data annually in order to evaluate progress towards program goals. Current reports can be found online at www.beactivesaferoutes.com.

 

Identification of Routes to Schools

Proposed routes were developed during the SRTS planning process by reviewing student addresses, school boundaries, and possible 2.5 mile walking routes (the demarcation for bussing) from each school based on the pedestrian network. This data allowed the SRTS staff team to propose primary routes that collect students who would be walking and/or bicycling from their residential streets. Input on these initial routes was gathered through multiple means, including a community meeting on January 14, 2015, attended by approximately 75 representatives of Lawrence elementary and middle schools, as well as numerous other smaller meetings with parents, school officials, and other interested parties. Routes were finalized by the SRTS team, taking into account all of the input and feedback provided through this process. Focusing built environment improvements on the proposed routes will benefit the largest number of students walking/cycling to school. Route maps were published for every public K-8 school on the Lawrence SRTS website:  www.beactivesaferoutes.com. Helpful safety tips for students walking or biking to school were also included with the route maps. An overall route map can be found online at: http://lawrenceks.org/assets/mpo/SRTS/RouteMap.pdf.

 

If/when boundaries change the routes can be updated. Individual schools are welcome to provide feedback or propose changes to the routes as they see fit. The SRTS team can respond to requests for changes to the routes.

 

SRTS Routes- Existing Conditions and Infrastructure Needs

The 51.2 miles of routes were evaluated by overlaying the routes with the 2014 sidewalk defect and ADA ramp inventory. A list of sidewalk gaps was developed based on the sidewalk network. As an initial goal, the SRTS team established a minimum level of service for the routes based on having a sidewalk on at least one side of the street. The total cost to meet this minimum level of service by installing a 5 foot wide sidewalk at $6/square foot on a single side for the identified gaps is $200,000. Installation of sidewalks on both sides of the street to address the gaps, while not identified as a priority, would cost $4,600,000[1]. There were 1,126 ramps along proposed routes that need improvements to meet current ADA standards and 48 instances where there were no ramps at all. The total cost of having ADA compliant ramps along proposed routes was $900,800 at a cost of $800 per ramp. Even after missing sidewalks and ADA compliant ramps are built, $1,650,000 is still needed for maintenance on all existing routes.

 

Infrastructure Funding

Currently there are two sources of potential funding to address the infrastructure improvements needed to address gaps and poor conditions in the proposed SRTS network:

(1)      SRTS Phase 2 – Application to KDOT - The City of Lawrence applied for a Kansas Department of Transportation - Transportation Alternative Program grant to install missing sections of sidewalk at two Lawrence schools (Liberty Memorial Central Middle School and Woodlawn Elementary School) and rectangular flashing beacons at selected school crossings.  The Public Works memo detailing this application can be accessed at:

www.lawrenceks.org/assets/agendas/cc/2015/11-10-15/pw_ta_srts_memo.pdf. The City should be notified if the KDOT grant application will be funded in April 2016.

(2)      Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding - The Lawrence City Commission approved sidewalk gap projects using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding to fund three 2015 SRTS sidewalk gap projects comprising a total of 1,495 feet of new sidewalk. The Lawrence Public Works department applied for for $117,625 of 2016 CDBG funding for construction of sidewalks. Included in this amount is $80,625 to fund three additional SRTS sidewalk gap projects. The funding should be announced in the spring of 2016.

 

If both the 2016 SRTS CDBG projects and the Phase 2 Transportation Alternative applications are funded, $4,500,000 is still needed to install sidewalks on both sides of the street. Progress is being made, but additional resources are needed.

 

Non-Infrastructure Activities

The SRTS initiative does not stop with the creation of routes; it also involves education and encouragement surrounding safe bike-riding and walking behavior. A study of 801 schools showed that education and encouragement programs increased biking and walking rates by 25% over 5 years[2]. In the last two years there have been considerable efforts undertaken in Lawrence to encourage students to walk and bike to school and to educate them on how to do so safely, including:

 

Walk to School Day & Bike to School Day

October 7th, 2015 was International Walk to School Day. Mayor Mike Amyx issued a proclamation officially making the day “Walk to School Day” for the City of Lawrence, joining more than 40 countries and thousands of cities all over the world who actively participated. Every K-8 school in Lawrence participated in the event. The Lawrence Fire Department was present at five elementary schools to help promote the event, and City Commissioners Stuart Boley and Leslie Soden led “walking school busses” along two walking routes to Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. The SRTS Team also plans to engage Lawrence Public Schools in celebrating National Bike to School day on May 4th, 2016. Bike to School Day efforts will be focused at the four Lawrence Middle Schools as the age-group identified by parent surveys as the most likely to be allowed to bike to school. An official mayoral proclamation will precede the event and city and community partners will again actively participate in activities and promotion.

 

Lawrence Public Schools Bicycle-and-Pedestrian Safety Curriculum

Lawrence Public Schools and the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department worked together to create a bicycle-and-pedestrian safety curriculum that is now being offered in Grades 2 and 5 at every Lawrence elementary school. The 2nd grade curriculum focuses on pedestrian safety knowledge and skills (definitions of basic pedestrian terms, correct use of cross walks, understanding pedestrian traffic signals, etc.) and the 5th grade curriculum focuses on bicycle safety (helmet and safety equipment, basic bicycle/equipment maintenance, use of hand signals, etc.). The Lawrence Public Schools and the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is also working with BikeWalkKC to run a pilot bike education program at four Lawrence elementary schools this March:  Quail Run, Broken Arrow, Schwegler, and Langston Hughes. Students at these schools will participate in the Bicycle Lesson and Safety Training (BLAST) curriculum, which involves actual “on-the-bike” safety instruction.

 

Parks & Recreation Education Efforts

In order to enhance local bicycle safety education, the City of Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department partnered with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department in June of 2015 to offer League of American Bicyclists’ League Certified Instructor (LCI) Training. The LCI training course provided certification and insurance for LCIs to teach bicycle skills and safety, motorist education courses, group riding skills, and commuting skills to work and school. Lawrence now has fourteen certified trainers. LCIs will be available to volunteer in the BLAST curriculum and teach community curriculum through Parks and Recreation. The instructors have already held “bike rodeo” activities at Edgewood Homes during the summer of 2015. Additionally, the Parks and Recreation Department introduced bicycle education programs in their winter/spring activities guide[3] and they will be hosting youth cycling summer camps.

 

Bike Month – Earth Day Celebration

Following the momentum created by these bicycle encouragement and education activities and events like Walk to School Day, the Safe Routes to School Team will also host an event at the annual Lawrence Earth Day Celebration. Youth from across the city will participate in a bike parade during the Earth Day Celebration and will host bike “valet parking” in South Park with a complimentary a tune-up station.

 

Non-Infrastructure Funding

To date, funding for these non-infrastructure activities has come primarily from grants to the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, including:

(1)          Chronic Disease Risk Reduction (CDRR) Grant - Each year the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department receives funding from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to address the leading drivers of chronic disease in Kansas:  tobacco use, poor diet, and inactivity. For the past two years the Health Department has used a portion of its CDRR funds to support Lawrence SRTS efforts.

(2)          Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH) Grant - In 2014 the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department was one of 12 “small communities” nationwide (<500,000 population) to receive a PICH grant, which like CDRR focuses on leading causes of chronic disease.

 

CDRR and PICH funding have been used for all of the non-infrastructure activities described above (LCI instructor training, the contract with BikeWalkKC for the BLAST pilot, and promotion of Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day), as well as for professional development for physical education instructors in Lawrence schools who are providing support for the development of school-level Safe Routes to School plans, and for the development and branding of BeActive SafeRoutes for all SRTS activities in Lawrence and Douglas County.

 

Policy

In the Summer of 2015, at a joint commission meeting (City of Lawrence, Douglas County, USD 497 School Board) there was a discussion of lack of clarity in the existing City of Lawrence school crossing policy, a policy that has not been revised since January of 2008. Later the SRTS team was asked to examine the policy and provide recommendations for revisions. A revised policy was drafted by the SRTS team, and in February 2016 the proposed draft was sent to the Lawrence Board of Education policy committee for review. It is anticipated that the school board will review the SRTS team’s proposed revisions and bring the proposed draft to the Traffic Safety Commission and City Commisison for revision of the policy.

 

Next Steps

Despite many achievements, the team is striving to complete even more. The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department will meet with schools participating in the SRTS program to classify schools based on their level of involvement in the SRTS program. Schools will be ranked as Gold, Silver, or Bronze, with Gold level schools being the ones with the most interest and engagement. Each school will also be developing a Safe Routes to School Plan that will guide each school’s annual efforts to enhance walking and biking safety for students and their families. Funding sources for these efforts will then be pursued—as needed—through grants as they become available, through Community Development Block Grants and/or the local budget process. Finally, a process for ensuring the long-term viability and sustainability of the Safe Routes to School initiative needs to be identified to carry the program forward.



[1] Lawrence Pedestrian Bicycle Issues Task Force Draft Report https://www.lawrenceks.org/assets/mpo/pedbike/pbitf-draft-report-01-25-16.pdf

[2] McDonald, N. C., Steiner, R. L., Lee, C., Rhoulac Smith, T., Zhu, X., & Yang, Y. (2014). Impact of the Safe Routes to School Program on Walking and Bicycling. Journal of the American Planning Association,80(2), 153–167. doi: 10.1080/01944363.2014.956654

[3] Lawrence Parks & Recreation Winter/Spring 2016 Activities Guide, https://lawrenceks.org/assets/lprd/winter-spring/16/winterspringguide16.pdf