Maybe it’s not feasible to travel by jet pack, but that didn’t stop students from including the idea on a middle school mural that highlights creative, non-car ways to arrive at school. The alternative transportation mural, painted on the corner of Mile High Middle School in Prescott, AZ, just behind the bicycle rack, was part of an encouragement effort, according to Lisa Barnes, Executive Director of Prescott Alternative Transportation (PAT), a non-profit pedestrian and bicycling advocacy organization.
“They see it every single day when they get to school — right behind the bike rack,” Barnes said. Parents dropping their students at school also see the mural each morning.
The mural was one facet of a non-infrastructure program funded by a $34,000 cycle one grant that PAT received in 2007-2008 from Arizona Department of Transportation (AZDOT), Barnes said. PAT worked with four schools in Prescott: Taylor Hicks Elementary School, which has 500 students; Mile High Middle School with 700 students; as well as Mountain Oak Charter School with grades kindergarten through eighth and Miller Valley Elementary.
These schools responded to PAT’s open offer of SRTS assistance, which explained not only the opportunities of the program, but also the commitment it requires from the schools, Barnes said. “It is work on their part as well,” said Barnes, who coordinates the SRTS program for Yavapai County.
Students were encouraged to brainstorm ways in which they could arrive at school, as long as it was not by car. They suggested traveling by skateboards and in-line skates, hot air balloons and jet packs — even by dinosaur, and the mural incorporates their ideas. Two local artists, R. Wall and Maggie Dewar — also known as the Mural Mice around town — worked with students, and all the school’s art classes participated in the painting. Even students who were not enrolled in art class could participate by signing up to paint with the artists after school. Student painters stood on scaffolding to help complete the mural, which is at least two stories tall.
Mile High Middle School Principal Joe Howard is an avid mountain bicyclist and wanted to help develop creative ways to encourage safe routes to school, Barnes said. As a result, the two came up with the idea for the mural. During Bike Month, which lasts from mid-April to mid-May, the mural was dedicated amid a celebration complete with the superintendent, city council, artists and the school’s jazz band.
The grant also enabled PAT to hire a part-time coordinator to promote encouragement activities, such as Walk to School Day and bicycle rodeos. Each of the four schools participated in International Walk to School Day, and students who walked received T-shirts. In addition, volunteers, staff and parents conducted a walk-about to create a map of pedestrian and bicycle routes within one mile of each school and to identify problem areas, which then were prioritized for inclusion in an infrastructure grant application. The schools have conducted quarterly hand count tallies to gauge participation in walking and bicycling to school.
Taylor Hicks and Mile High have been the most active in the SRTS activities, Barnes said, and the combined totals of those two schools indicate that about 3 percent bicycle and 8 percent walk to school.
One challenge to increasing participation in pedestrian and bicycle activities in the Prescott school system is that it offers parents and students a choice in where they attend schools, so the students do not necessarily attend their “neighborhood schools.” In fact, only 20 percent of the families at Taylor Hicks and Mile High schools live within the two-mile radius targeted by SRTS, Barnes said.
“We can only hope that students participating in the Safe Routes educational workshops are doing this at home,” Barnes said. “The message is still getting out there.” Less visible benefits might be that parents learn how to share the road with bicyclists and pedestrians.
During the 2008 to 2009 grant cycle, PAT applied for grants to support both non-infrastructure and infrastructure projects, but only received funding for the non-infrastructure projects, Barnes said. The organization received $44,000, which will enable PAT to incorporate two more schools into its encouragement and education activities in 2008 to 2009. PAT will reapply for infrastructure funds in the next grant cycle, Barnes said.
Executive Director of Prescott Alternative Transportation