Little Rock, Arkansas: PTA leads community efforts to reap SRTS benefits

Introduction

The Forest Park Elementary School PTA utilized strengths of its parent volunteers to partner with the City of Little Rock, the Little Rock School District and 3M Corporation to develop a comprehensive and successful Safe Routes to School program. Originally built in 1913, Forest Park Elementary School is located in a land-locked established neighborhood without sidewalks, curbs or gutters on the feeder streets around the school. The K-5 school is within a quarter mile of a state highway and major thoroughfare to downtown, and the morning drop-off time between 7:30 and 8 a.m. coincides with traffic from employees going to work. The school’s population has grown in recent years from 330 in 2003 to 450 in 2009, and a significant increase in traffic congestion has accompanied the additional enrollment. Although 86 percent of the students come from the neighborhoods in the designated school zone, 90 percent of students are car riders because of unsafe pedestrian conditions. There have been numerous traffic accidents near the school, and one student was hit by a car.

A PTA survey found that one-third of the students lived within a half mile of school, but they couldn’t walk to school because there were no sidewalks, so parents drove their children to school. Past PTA President for 2006-2007 Martha Hill says that parents and school and city officials understood the problem and had begun looking for solutions even before the Federal SRTS funds filtered down to the states. The City made improvements to the area where the child was struck by a car. Its Master Street Plan requires sidewalks on new or rehabilitated streets and includes plans for continuous bike routes throughout the City, but the City has limited funds to build all of the projects. In 2005, the PTA began talking with Bicycle Advocates of Central Arkansas and the Little Rock School District School Board about SRTS funding and the need for sidewalks around the school. “We knew this funding was coming,” Hill says. In 2006, the PTA formed an ad hoc Traff ic Safety Committee. Hill credits the vast experience that parents had in many different f ields with helping the project move forward smoothly.

Activities

In 2007, the Forest Park Elementary PTA was awarded a $317,452 infrastructure grant from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) for its “Stride with Pride on Neighborhood Streets” project. The project also was awarded a non-infrastructure grant of $10,592 for education programs.

“We recognized that any effort to improve the situation would be a major one,” says Cindy Pugh, incoming PTA president for 2009-2010. The school partnered with the City of Little Rock as well as the Little Rock School District, 3M Corporation, the AHTD and the neighborhood community surrounding the school. “This approach demonstrated our broad scale support and ensured that all issues related to infrastructure work were resolved on the front end.”

The grant was awarded in the fall of 2007, Pugh notes, and construction was completed during summer 2008 when school was out of session. Hill spent many hours on-site working with contractors and neighbors to ensure the project was completed with as little conflict as possible. The improvements included the installation of 46 driver safety signs and two solar driver feedback signs, 330 tons of asphalt and 2,851 square feet of driveway. In addition, contractors poured 6,711 square feet of concrete for sidewalks, installed 1,519 linear feet of curb and gutter, and painted cross walks and other driver directional signage in fluorescent paint. The work was finished before school started.

“We had kids walking to school that first day,” Hill says. “It was incredible.” The PTA celebrated the completion of the sidewalks on International Walk to School Day in October 2008, and it launched its Stride Pride education component. The multi-faceted education project includes a public awareness campaign, establishing a walking school bus, incorporating age-appropriate pedestrian safety messages into the curriculum and holding Stride Pride Fridays to encourage students to walk to school regularly.

Milestones

Observations show more children are walking to school on the sidewalks, and the PTA plans to survey families and students twice a year to measure sidewalk use. The educational program will be assessed annually over a three-year period to determine improvements in pedestrian safety knowledge. Community awareness about pedestrians increased after raised pavement markers were installed in the crosswalks as well as “Yield to Pedestrians” signs.

“People know now,” Hill says. “That has really slowed people down.” The Forest Park PTA won the Little Rock PTA Council Safety Award and the Arkansas PTA Council Safety Award. Pugh credits the program’s success to the collaboration among key stakeholders. An added benefit came when neighborhood residents surrounding the school banded together to raise private funds and negotiate with
the City to improve a section of street that was not covered by the SRTS grant.

“The biggest success of the project is seeing our children and the community embrace and use the infrastructure improvements,” Pugh says.

Contact

Martha Hill
2006-2007 PTA President, In charge of infrastructure portion of grant jfrenchhill@sbcglobal.net

Cindy Pugh
Incoming PTA President for 2009-2010, In charge of non-infrastructure portion of grant
ctpugh@swbell.net