Following a five-year plan has helped the city of Amory and its school district take steps to make neighborhoods safer for children to walk and bicycle to school. Amory, a small, rural community, has a population of 7,500, and its two elementary schools and middle school are all within a two-mile range of each other. Families feel safe in Amory.
“Kids get on their bikes and ride all across town,” says Carol Rogers, Coordinator for School Health and grant writer for the school district.
West Amory Elementary School, which serves 450 to 500 students in pre-kindergarten to second grade, is located in an older, impoverished neighborhood that has some gentrification occurring. Its roadways are bordered by drainage ditches that make walking and bicycling unsafe. A heavily used freight railroad is adjacent to the school. On any given day, 25 students walk to school, but there is potential for many more to walk if the routes were safer, Rogers says. Due to the roadside ditches, even parents stroll in the middle of the street during the day because there is nowhere else to walk.
“We would see kids’ bicycles in the ditches where they had just given up,” Rogers says. Staff members walk to the end of school property with students who walk to and from school, but the youngsters often walk the rest of the way alone. All of the schools are Title 1; 50 percent of the students have elevated BMI’s; and 60 percent of the students receive free and reduced lunches, according to Rogers.
“There are a lot of needs,” she says.
Students in Amory have participated in International Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day for the past three years, and those events raised community awareness that students cannot safely walk to school. The small size of the community has strengthened the
“Everybody’s familiar with the project,” Rogers explains. “The school district and City all worked together on this project; I think that’s why it’s been so successful — everyone knows it’s going to serve the students, the residents, and the community as a whole.”
The city of Amory was awarded a $643,484 SRTS infrastructure grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation to construct sidewalks to West Amory Elementary School and to reroute bus traffic. West Amory Elementary School serves 450 to 500 students in pre-k to second grade in this rural community. A five-year plan makes SRTS progress in Amory and crossroads will be constructed for students.
Community leaders hope other pedestrians will use the crossroads, Rogers says. Rerouting the school buses will reduce traffic congestion where children will be walking and also will provide a safe evacuation route in the case of a hazardous spill on the railroad, according to Mayor Howard Boozer. The bus rerouting part of the project was funded by a $225,000 Community Development Block Grant, $95,000 from the MDOT SRTS infrastructure grant; $10,000 from in-kind contributions from the City; and a $120,000 land donation, Boozer says.
The project faced a significant hurdle when the Federal Highway Administration contacted the Chickasaw Indian nation to determine if there were any issues related to American Indian history. The FHWA also sent its environmental/historic impact staff person to inspect the site, and after an extended waiting period with no response from the Chickasaw nation, Amory received FHWA and MDOT approval to proceed with the project.
The new bus route location had previously been used as an airport landing strip. During the lengthy review process, construction prices rose due to increasing asphalt costs, and the city was awarded a $100,000 Small Municipalities Grant from the Mississippi Development Authority to bridge the funding gap. An additional $16,832 SRTS non-infrastructure grant was awarded to Amory to be used for education and encouragement programs to complement the infrastructure improvements.
The 2009 SRTS project kicks off the school district’s five-year plan that will be constructed in three phases and will include the other elementary school and the middle school. It complements the City’s plan to improve sidewalks each year.
“This was a perfect way to improve sidewalks and link trails,” Rogers says of the SRTS funding. The school district will hold forums and meetings with parents and citizens to explain the project and the new traffic flow patterns, Rogers says. They will provide informational handouts, and police officers will offer safety education in schools. Schools will conduct bicycle rodeos.
The SRTS project has spurred other positive results. Amory Middle School started a bicycle club for children with special needs. The school district plans to apply for another SRTS grant to install bike paths to the middle school as the next phase of its five-year plan.
Mayor Boozer views this as an economic development project because “our greatest asset is our children.” Ensuring their safety is a necessity, and though project planning takes time and resources, he offers this advice to other communities: “You’ve got to persevere.…”
Carol Rogers, Coordinator for School Health and grant writer for the Amory School District
Howard Boozer, Mayor of Amory