Safe Routes Snapshots: Billings, Montana

Photo of Go Play LogoSafe Routes Snapshots provides a brief profile of a Safe Routes to School state or local program that highlights a particular success or issue the program faced. To submit your program for Safe Routes Snapshots, please email news@saferoutesinfo.org.

"Go Play" has new meaning in Billings. The city with a population of 100,000 and 23 elementary schools utilizes a "Go Play Billings Trails" program to encourage children and their families to walk and bicycle safely to schools and throughout the community through a collaborative effort of many community partners.

Community Health Advocate Kathy Aragon said that Billings is fortunate because many students live close enough to walk and bicycle to school, and some neighborhoods have nearby bike paths and trails that provide direct routes to school without crossing major roadways. The "Go Play Billings Trails" program seeks to build upon that strength.

"It's all about community awareness," Aragon said. "We have an enormous amount of collaboration."

The "Go Play Billings Trails" program is a non-infrastructure program that began when St. Vincent Healthcare donated $5,000 in 2006, which enabled students from Montana State University-Billings to develop a brochure of information to encourage safe walking and bicycling in Billings. In March 2007, Aragon received a $10,000 SRTS grant from the Montana Department of Transportation (MtDOT) to fund events, as well as billboards that are located near schools. Billings held the 6-mile-long Magic City Trail Trek, followed by a barbecue lunch in late spring 2007, and in the fall Aragon held a Saturday Live Fun Run/Walk, which is a two-mile long School District fundraiser. At each event, volunteers distributed information about safe walking and bicycling to children and parents.

This non-infrastructure program complements a $25,000 SRTS infrastructure grant that Billings received from the MtDOT's state SRTS program in 2006 for the Chandelier Crossing for children going to Arrowhead Elementary School. The crossing was built as part of the Big Ditch Trail, Phase 2, according to Darlene Tussing, Alternate Modes Coordinator for the City-County Planning Office. The sidewalk connected a residential area to a bike trail, which provided direct access to Arrowhead Elementary for students.

Aragon believes that by educating students, parents and other community members and increasing their participation in walking and bicycling, they will be more aware of pedestrians and bicyclists, and that awareness will increase safety for everyone.

Future planned projects include a $25,000 SRTS infrastructure grant from MtDOT that will make the sidewalks at Highland Elementary contiguous, connecting a pedestrian-only entrance at the back of the school, as well as a $49,495 grant from MtDOT to McKinley Elementary for "bulb outs' and other safety improvements at intersections. In addition, Aragon plans to seek funds that will provide mini-grants to enable all 23 elementary schools in Billings to hold International Walk To School Day events. Additionally, the city of Billings has applied for a SRTS grant to create a district-wide safety plan.