Chagrin Falls, Ohio: Comprehensive Safe Routes to School Program built around village cooperation and core goals of safety and encouragement

Introduction

Chagrin Falls is a village of about 4,000 residents located 17 miles southeast of Cleveland.  The village school system includes an elementary school (grades K-3), an intermediate school (grades 4-6, school population about 480), a middle school (grades 7-8, school population about 320), and a high school.

About 35 percent of intermediate school students live within a mile of school, and about 66 percent live within two miles of school in this compact town with an area of just 2.1 square miles.  Yet before the Safe Routes Chagrin program began in 2009, only 17 percent of intermediate school students walked or biked to school.

Barriers to active travel included:

  • Physical Barriers—lack of sidewalks from the north side of town to the schools and a lack of clearly defined paths on school property to the school buildings;
  • Safety Barriers—parental concerns included unsafe intersections, a lack of crossing guards, and children’s safety related to possible abduction attempts;
  • Behavior Barriers—deeply entrenched practices like jaywalking at a particular location instead crossing at a nearby traffic signal and a walking route cutting through a secluded wooded area that concerned community members; and
  • Policy Barriers—a policy against middle schoolers biking to school because there was no way for bikes to enter school grounds without entering the flow of vehicles driven by high school students whose school is on the same campus.

Activities

The program began in February 2009 with a $2,000 SRTS grant for evaluation and planning.  The evaluation included parent surveys, student travel tallies and a study of the travel environment, which identified the barriers noted above.  Based on that information, program leaders developed a school travel plan and a set of goals and corresponding actions to make improvements.

In July 2010 the program received a $571,275 SRTS award for infrastructure and non-infrastructure projects.

A large portion of those SRTS funds were used to add and improve sidewalks and pathways for walkers and bicyclists on school routes.  A new sidewalk from the north side of town across the Chagrin River connected nearly 140 additional students to their schools.  Construction of other new sidewalks fixed continuity problems at prioritized locations.  Walking and biking paths were added on school campuses, including a bike path on the middle and high school campus.  To make sometimes snow-covered sidewalks safer, the program launched a community outreach campaign and sought enforcement of the local snow removal ordinance.

To improve safety at intersections on school routes the town implemented a “No Right on Red” policy during school hours at key intersections, added “School Zone” signs, driver feedback signs, and other signs and pavement markings, and enlisted the police to enforce speed limits and yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks during school arrival and dismissal periods.

To improve student safety on walking and bicycling routes Safe Routes Chagrin worked with local police to recruit, train, equip and support 25 volunteer crossing guards.  Crossing guards are stationed at four major intersections near the Intermediate School every morning and afternoon.

To further address safety concerns, Safe Routes Chagrin launched a Safe House program, with 30 Safe Houses in the village marked with a ‘Safe House’ garden flag and marked on a School Routes Map.

A third safety feature is educational outreach, teaching safety to students in a variety of ways:  bike rodeos, integrating bike safety education into the physical education curriculum, PA announcements and newsletter articles, Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day events, and safety education assemblies in the schools.

As the program grew, its leaders saw a need for a part-time coordinator to help plan and implement all the programs and to coordinate the many volunteers.  SRTS funding awards of $35,000 in 2011 and $38,382 in 2012 allowed that to happen and also supported the schools’ bike safety education program.

Milestones

The activities described above addressed all of the identified barriers.  Responses on parent surveys show the difference these steps have made, with only 20 percent of parent respondents citing lack of crossing guards as a concern in 2012 compared to 76 percent before the program began.  Those citing concerns about intersection safety also fell over that time period, from 89 percent to 53 percent.  Conversely, 50 percent of parents said the presence of crossing guards was a factor in their decision to allow their child to walk.

With physical and safety barriers addressed, Safe Routes Chagrin addressed Behavior Barriers by working with school administrators to develop new policies for arrival and dismissal aimed at keeping walkers and bikers safe by using the established school routes.  Arrival and dismissal instructions are emphasized on a School Routes Map created and distributed widely by Safe Routes Chagrin.  The map also shows the location of Safe Houses and the intersections patrolled by crossing guards.  Within two years the jaywalking, taking cut-throughs and other discouraged behaviors stopped.

The construction of new walking and biking paths on school campuses, especially the new bike path on the middle and high school campus, allowed Safe Routes Chagrin to address the Policy Barrier.  The group successfully advocated for changing the middle school policy to open the possibility for middle school students to bike to school.

While the program has yet to see significant changes in walking and biking to school at the middle school level, it has seen a dramatic rise in walking to school at the intermediate school level.  As noted above, only about 17 percent of students living within two miles of the intermediate school (about 80 students) walked or biked to school in 2009.  Now 26 percent of those students regularly walk or bike, a 54 percent increase that equates to 50 more students walking or biking to school in 2012 than in 2009.

That participation skyrockets on Walk to School Day.  About 30 middle school students and 120 intermediate school students participated in the program’s first Walk to School Day event in 2009.  In 2012, 180 middle school students participated, as did about 300 Intermediate School students.  That growth is attributable to a combination of including students in planning the event (through the middle school student council) and the event evolving into a community-wide celebration that includes the walk to school in the morning and a full slate of fun activities in the village at the end of the school day.

Reflecting on the entire scope of the Safe Routes Chagrin program, Kathryn Garvey, president of Safe Routes Chagrin, attributes the program’s success to the collective action of the community partners.

“We've built a truly cooperative endeavor between the village government, the school district, the police department, parents of school children, local merchants and the community which has allowed us to meet our goals to improve safety and encourage more students to walk and bike and to build a sustainable program supported by our entire community,” Garvey said.

Contacts

Kathryn Garvey
President, Safe Routes Chagrin
saferouteschagrin@yahoo.com
http://saferouteschagrin.com

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