Duluth, Minnesota: Planning for Safe Routes

Introduction

The Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council (MIC) is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Duluth-Superior metropolitan area and began Safe Routes to School planning initiatives in the area. In spring 2005, after successfully completing a plan for Superior, MN, the MIC approached the Duluth public school district’s transportation director about a SRTS plan for Duluth. The school district showed interest in developing a SRTS plan for selected urban schools without busing within one mile of school and with large pedestrian area boundaries.

Activities

In August 2005, a steering committee was formed and held its first meeting. The steering committee included representatives from the police department, school board, city council, health department and the principals from each of the five schools selected. The steering committee met six times to discuss conditions at each school and the appropriate improvements to be made.

In October 2005, each school administered surveys to students in the third through eighth grade and to their parents. The teachers conducted the student surveys, in which students who walked or bicycled to school were asked to draw their route on school maps.

The survey results revealed that between 24 and 34 percent of students in the five schools walked to school. Parents’ concerns included a lack of crossing guards and sidewalks, traffic congestion and chaos around the school’s drop-off areas from the combination of buses, cars, pedestrians and bicyclists. An additional concern, voiced by parents as well as by school administrators and law enforcement officers, was the Duluth School District Bike Policy, which prevents bicycling without the principal’s approval. The principals are concerned the steep hills, traffic congestion and the bicyclists’ young age might affect their understanding of traffic laws. The steering committee, along with the principals, agreed that bicycling to school should be a long term goal after bicycle education and safety measures improve. The police department suggested parents sign permission slips allowing their child to bicycle to school and for the fire and park department to teach safety education clinics and to conduct bicycle check-up clinics.

Milestones

Once the Duluth SRTS plan was approved, each of the five schools in the assessment applied for federal SRTS funds through the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). In fall 2006, Lincoln Park Elementary School was awarded $25,030 for infrastructure improvements and $5,000 for non-infrastructure improvements. In spring 2007, Congdon Park Elementary received $137,600 in the second MnDOT funding solicitation for infrastructure improvements along primary routes students use to reach school. Duluth’s public school district received a non-infrastructure grant for $50,000 intended for bicycle and pedestrian education at schools within the district. In the program, teachers will draft age-appropriate curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade students across the school district. With the money, the district will purchase student-sized crossing guard vests, send student school patrol leaders to school patrol camp and conduct a Duluth police department training session for school staff on how to properly issue parking tickets to motor vehicles parked illegally in bus zones. Duluth is working to finalize the financial details of the grant before they begin implementing the SRTS projects in summer 2008.

Contact

James Gittemeier
Senior Planner
Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council
221 West First Street
Duluth, MN 55802
Phone: (218) 529-7556
Email: jgittemeier@ardc.org