Flathead County, Montana: Building Community Support for SRTS

Introduction

Evergreen Elementary School and Evergreen Middle School are in Flathead County, MT. The elementary school is on a busy, five-lane roadway at the county’s urban and rural interface. Currently, almost 25 percent of students walk to the two schools, even though there are no sidewalks on East Evergreen Drive, the street in front of the schools.

One parent at the schools, who bicycled to school when she was a child, helped lead the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) initiative in Flathead County to provide her children with the same opportunity. She called Flathead County and the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT) many times to voice her safety concerns. As a result, MDOT agreed to fund a SRTS study identifying education, encouragement, enforcement and engineering projects that would increase the safety of students walking and bicycling to school. The study identified projects that subsequently received funding.

Activities

Montanta's Community Transportation Enhancement Program is funding a sidewalk for these children to use on their walk to school.At the kick-off meeting for the SRTS planning process, the community members who attended expressed their skepticism. Many felt frustrated that little had been done in the past for pedestrians and bicyclists, and they felt that conditions would not change. During the planning process, however, excitement for the SRTS activities developed among parents, local businesses, the school district, county commissioners and the Parent-Teacher Organization. Together, the community identified priorities for engineering, education, enforcement and encouragement projects.

Between 20 to 25 percent of students currently walk to Evergreen Elementary and Middle schools.The Evergreen schools received a grant from Montana’s Community Transportation Enhancement Program to fund the installation of a sidewalk leading to the schools. The state of Montana also has approved SRTS funding for the schools, granting about $50,000 for infrastructure improvements and $10,000 for non-infrastructure activities identified in the SRTS study. The infrastructure portion of the SRTS funding will aid in improving safety at a busy intersection on the school pedestrian route. Before sidewalk construction begins, MDOT must approve the project, which is expected to occur in March 2008.

With the non-infrastructure funds, education and encouragement activities were created. In October 2007, more than 100 students participated in the school’s International Walk to School Day. With the funds, 250 backpack safety lights were purchased, some of which were given to students on International Walk to School Day. The remaining safety lights will be given to the children during the spring 2008 bike rodeo. Other encouragement activities have been placed on hold until the construction of the new sidewalk is completed.

Between 20–25% of students currently walk to Montana’s Community Transportation Enhancement Program is funding a sidewalk for these children to use on their walk to school.

Milestones

The schools plan to collect new data after the installation of the sidewalk, the intersection safety improvements and the implementation of the education and encouragement activities.

Contact

Jeff Key
Robert Peccia & Associates
1-800-667-8160

Darla Harmon
Evergreen Community Partners
406-752-3255